The Path We Choose

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Chapter 42


The hospital doors clanged shut and I stood there, unable to move as my entire life fought for her life without me on the other side.

My mind was a jumble of images and sounds and it wasn't until I felt someone wrap their arm around me that I was able to focus on anything.

"Edward, son, you can't stand here," my dad told me as he tried to lead me away from the doorway and toward the waiting room.

"I can't leave her Pop. Where she goes, I go. I promised, we promised each other. She promised me," I whispered, realizing that I wasn't making much sense but fuck, I couldn't even get a grasp on what had happened.

"Edward," Carlisle said, as he stepped in front of me.

I registered the fact that he had blood on his shirt, that his hair was a mess and his shirt was twisted and half in, half out of his pants.

"Son, we need to get you checked out. You hit your head rather hard when you fell and we need to make sure nothing is broken. Come on," he said softly as he tried to pull me farther down the hallway.

I shook my head. "I didn't fall. Bella pushed me out of the way…she saved me," I said as my mind tried to piece together what happened.

"Oh Edward," my dad sighed regretfully and looked at me with sorrowful eyes. "Son, we really can't stay right here. You need medical attention and the rest of the family is in the waiting room. Your mother is beside herself and won't stop worrying until she sees that you're okay," he said.

Numbly, I choked out, "I'm not okay. I won't be okay until I know Bella is. Until I can look her in the eyes and feel her heartbeat."

He started to say something else but then closed his eyes and led me to the examination room where Bree and Dr. Garrett were already waiting.

I got checked out and besides some bruising and a horrific headache, I didn't have any other injuries and I hurried back to the waiting room with the rest of the family.

"Pop, how much longer?" I begged noticing that my scalp tingled from pulling my hair so hard.

"Son, I don't know. You know how much damage there was to her ribs and her chest, Edward, not to mention the head injury. It will still be hours yet before we find out anything," Carlisle told me, his voice wary and heavy.

"Fuck," I hissed, throwing myself back in my chair.

I had already paced back and forth for hours now, well stomped was more like it. I'd made everyone even more upset and nervous than they already were with my muttering, cursing, and praying… so much so that Mama begged me to sit.

Ali had my hand gripped so tightly in her tiny hand, the tips of my fingers were ice cold due to the lack of circulation. "Brother mine, stay strong for her. Bella will need you when she wakes up Edward," she whispered fervently as she laid her head on my shoulder.

"I know Ali cat," I wheezed out as my breath caught in my throat again when I pictured her lying on the ground, covered in blood.

There was so much of it everywhere and I looked down at my hands and shuddered…my hands and clothes were still covered in Bella's blood and it made me sick to my stomach.

"Oh God," I moaned as I panted in and out, my head swimming because I couldn't catch my breath.

"Edward," Bree said quietly as she approached the waiting room where our family was spread out. I looked and she handed me a set of scrubs. "You might feel better if you got out of those clothes. Just give me the ones you have on and I'll get rid of them. Is there anything else any of you need?" she asked and I shook my head.

It hurt to talk, hell it hurt to breathe knowing that my Bella was behind those doors fighting for her life.

Emmett, who had a hold of my other hand, pulled me up. "Come on brother, let's go get you changed before Maddie and Masen get here. They can't see you like this," he said gently as he wrapped an arm around me.

We made it to the on-call room and he helped change my clothes since I was in no shape to do it myself. "I'm so fucking scared Em. You should have seen her…if she doesn't," I whispered as I held my head in my hands.

"Don't you say it, Edward. Just…fucking don't," Emmett said as he shook his head. "You can't think that way, please?"

I nodded my head, totally numb and we made it back to the waiting room where I heard the sounds that shattered me and broke the tenuous hold I had on my emotions.

"Daddy!" Maddie and Masen yelled as they ran to me.

"Where's Mommy?" they asked and I crumpled to a heap on the floor, having no clue what to say to them.

I knelt on the ground and pulled them toward me, not even trying to stop the sobs that wracked my body or the tears that spilled from my eyes. I should have been able to be stronger for my children, but I needed them so much. I hadn't seen them in almost three weeks and this was certainly not the reunion I had envisioned. I didn't even realize how hard I was squeezing them until they both squirmed in my embrace. "Oh God, how I've missed you two," I struggled to say.

After kissing them both on the tops of their heads, I pulled away to look at each of them. I knew they understood that something bad had happened. I didn't even attempt to think about how fast my Uncle and cousin had to drive to get them here so quickly. A small part of my brain remembered the agents that Alec had up at the house with them so I was fairly certain that though they made it here way faster than they should have been, they made it safely and more than likely with a police escort.

I scrambled up off my knees and managed to get the three of us to the sofa in the waiting room. I pulled them down beside me and took a deep breath before having to do one of the hardest things I had ever done as a father.

"Maddie, Masen, Mommy was hurt really bad earlier," I began slowly and waited for comprehension to show on their faces before I went on. When they both looked like the understood what I said, I continued, "She is in with the doctors now and they are trying to make her all better."

"Mommy's gonna be okay though, right?" Masen asked, and reached across my lap and grabbed his sister's hand.

I couldn't promise him that Bella would be okay, no matter how badly I wanted to.

"We sure hope so buddy. The doctors will be working as hard as they can, just like Papa and I do for our patients," I told him, hoping he understood.

"Why can't you and Papa make her better?" My sweet princess asked me. I hugged her to me and rested my chin on her head. I closed my eyes; I just couldn't look at my parents who were sitting on the other side of her.

"I wish I could babygirl, so much. But, Mommy needs a different kind of doctor than me and Papa," I told her when I was finally able to look at her. She had tears running down her face and I bent forward and kissed her on the nose and wiped her cheeks with the backs of my fingers. "She loves you both so much," I whispered and turned to look at Masen as well. "That was the last thing she said before they took her to the operating room. That she loved you both so so much," I choked out and then I started to shake as I began to cry again.

Just remembering what she sounded like before they took her away, how hard she struggled just to get those last words out. My breath started coming in heavy pants as the vision of how she looked on the stretcher assaulted me again.

"Daddy?" Masen asked and I focused on him and forced myself to take a few deep breaths so that I didn't scare the ever living hell out of my two eight-year-old children.

"I'm okay little man. I'm just worried about Mommy is all. Why don't we take a walk down to the cafeteria for a minute and get you guys some juice?" I asked.

I didn't want to be far away from Bella but right now I needed to concentrate on the two of them for a few minutes. I knew it would still be quite some time before I heard anything from her doctors so I tried to put on a brave face for the kids and stood up. "Come on you two, let's go. You can tell me all about what you've been up to since I talked to you last night before bed."

Christ it felt like that was forever ago instead of just last night.

"Son," Esme called to me as we started to walk away.

"Its okay, Mama," I told her. I knew she was worried about me being by myself with the kids, but I needed to step away for a few minutes at least. "We'll be right back. We won't be long," I told her and then ushered Maddie and Masen toward the cafeteria.

We each grabbed an apple juice out of the refrigerator and when I spied some cookies close to the cash register I looked at each of the kids in question, seeing if they wanted one. "No thanks Daddy," Maddie said quietly. "There's no way they'd be as good as Mommy's. I miss Mommy," she said as she looked at me with tears in her eyes.

"She missed you both, too, very much," I told them honestly as we made our way to a table. I wanted to get back to Bella, but I knew the kids would have to leave before too much longer and I wanted to spend as much time with them as I could.

"Can we see her?" Masen asked and I was already shaking my head at him.

How the hell do you explain to your own children that you weren't sure what tomorrow would bring…that you didn't know if the person they loved almost more than anyone in the world would live to see another day?

It was something I'd never contemplated having to do…who in their right mind would? I was really cursing the promise the kids and I had made with one another right at the moment, that was for damn sure. I'd sworn…I'd fucking promised them I would never lie to either of them, ever. As much as I wanted to right now, I couldn't do it.

"Masen, Maddie, it will be until tomorrow morning before we'll know if Mommy will be okay or not. Even then, we might not know for sure. I know it's really hard for you to understand right now, but when people get hurt like Mommy did, it sometimes takes the doctors a long time to make people better," I told them, hoping that I was making at least a bit of sense.

To me it felt like I was rambling, but who the hell knew.

"Daddy?" Maddie asked hesitantly. My heart clenched painfully and my stomach twisted in knots as soon as I recognized the tone of her voice and realized what she was about to ask me.

"Please don't, oh please don't," I chanted in my head over and over again while I looked at my little girl and then her brother…who had the same questioning expression on his face, too.

"Yes princess?" I asked her, as I curled my hands into fists and pressed them into my thighs.

"Did Mommy get hurt by the person that sent her the scary letters?" She asked and essentially shredded what was left of my heart.

"Jesus Christ," I hissed, somewhat under my breath, but I knew they both heard me. I pinched the bridge of my nose…hard. Son a bitch it was fucking hard being a parent…an adult sometimes.

I lifted my hands from my legs and placed them on the table, around my bottle of juice and took a deep breath before answering, what I was positive, was one of the hardest questions I'd ever had to answer in my life. "Yes baby, I'm afraid she was," I said and swept my gaze from her to her brother.

Maddie let out a squeak and then covered her mouth with her hands. Masen didn't say a word, didn't move, didn't even blink. He just stared at me, all expression having left his face.

"Mase?" I said softly after he'd sat perfectly still for a few minutes and still didn't say a word.


I sighed. I should have known he would take this the hardest out of the two. There was no doubting Bella's love for each of them and Maddie adored her in return. Masen however, absolutely worshiped the ground she walked on. More than once since the Mommy plan had come to fruition did Masen inform both Bella and myself that even though he was going to call Bella mommy, she was still and would forever be his best friend.

"Okay you two, we need to go back," I resignedly said. I scooted my chair back and stood up, neither one of the kids had moved.

Maddie held her arms out, something she hadn't done in years, for me to pick her up. Not that I minded in the least to be honest. The fact that she still needed me that way, that she still sought out comfort from being held was something that soothed, minutely, the frayed edges of my soul.

"Buddy, you coming?" I asked my son, who still sat, unmoving.

"Masen, come on," Maddie said, though the sound was muffled due to her tears and the fact she had burrowed her head against my chest.

His head snapped in our direction when he heard his sister's voice and he angrily pushed himself away from the table and stomped toward Maddie and me.

I laid my head on the top of his head to keep him next to me and though he was killing me because I understood better than anyone how angry and scared he was, I still needed him to listen to me.

"Masen, I know this is a lot to take in. Please know that I'm here if you need to talk to someone, if you have questions. If you don't want to talk to me, I'll understand but remember you can talk to anyone else, too, okay?" I kept my hand on his head and waited until he quickly nodded his head.

"I love you son, so much and Mommy does too," I said quietly, tears silently poured down my face and dripped onto my daughters head.

He shrugged my hand off and fuck if it didn't hurt like hell, like stake through the heart kind of pain. While I understood he was hurting and probably more confused then he'd ever been in his life, it didn't really lessen the anguish I felt at being brushed off like that.

We slowly made our way back and everyone looked up when we approached. I looked for my dad immediately and he shook his head at my obviously unneeded question. There hadn't been any word yet so we sat down to wait with the rest of our family.

It didn't take long for Maddie to fall asleep in my arms and I held her close to me, breathing in her calming little girl scent. Masen still hadn't said a word to me…to anyone. He just sat and stared at the floor, unmoving. I couldn't imagine anything more painful than watching your child struggle to come to terms with things no eight-year-old should ever have to try to understand.

I left him alone knowing that, like me at that age, he just needed some time to work through everything he was feeling before he would be able to make sense of what had happened. I kept one hand on his back, just to reinforce that I was there and thankfully he hadn't shaken me off again. I'm not sure I would have been able to handle it a second time.

When he began to fall asleep sitting up, Aunt Diane indicated she'd take Maddie and Masen back home to the loft.

"No! I'm not leaving Mommy," Masen cried when she tried to get him to stand up.

"Daddy, I want to stay with you," Maddie said quietly as she shifted in my arms when she woke up.

"Maddie, Masen, you two need to go home and get some rest. In the morning, you can come right back when you wake up, I promise," I told them.

Masen glared at me and whispered, "You need to stop making promises if you can't keep them. Mommy says you only make promises you know you can keep," he said as his eyes filled with tears and effectively disintegrated what little grasp on the situation I'd had.

"Masen!" Carlisle admonished from beside me and I shook my head at him.

If I'd had any question on how difficult this would be for Masen, which I really hadn't, there was no doubting it now.

"I know you're angry right now Masen and you're confused, too. Try to remember how much I love you and how much Mommy loves you," I said softly, swallowing past the golf ball sized lump in my throat. "You two go with Aunt Diane and Heidi and get some rest. You can come back when you get up in the morning."

Demetri walked over and scooped Maddie into his arms after I'd given her a kiss and told her I loved her. I watched through tear filled eyes as my aunt walked next to my son as they followed them, my heart breaking when he didn't even turn back around to say goodbye…or that he loved me.

There had never been a time since they each had learned how to talk that Masen hadn't told me he loved me. Never.

"Fuck," I rasped out and hung my head, pulling my hair painfully hard in the process.

"Edward, he's just frightened and confused right now," my mom said comfortingly as she rubbed circles on my back.

I looked up at her and then around the room at the remaining members of my family. "He's right though, Mama. I never should have promised him I'd protect Bella…I did lie to him. I lied to all of you since I obviously couldn't keep her safe."

"Edward, stop it," Seth hissed at me from across the room. "We all failed her, not just you, so you can't accept all the blame here."

My dad stood and looked around at each of us in turn before he said very calmly but very emphatically. "Knock it off…all of you. What has happened is terrible, but it is no one's fault other than the one that hurt our Bella. No one's. Guilt and blame isn't going to help Bella get better and it isn't going to help those two kids understand either, so stop it right now. We are a family damn it…we don't do this," he said and then walked out of the room.

I let out a long, uneven breath and tried, somewhat successfully, to push those thoughts to the back of my mind. I had no doubt they'd creep back again, but my dad was right. Focusing on how horribly I'd failed her wouldn't make her better any quicker and that was the most important thing of all right now.


"Edward," Dr. Jackson Owens said as he pulled off his mask and motioned for me and the rest of the family to follow him to the consultation room too many hours to count later.

I'd been in the room many times before, talking to the families of my own patients. While I thought myself to be a very compassionate doctor when it came to this side of my profession, I'd never imagined, in a million years, being on the opposite side of the equation.

Emmett walked beside me, still refusing to let go of me and Ali was on my other side. Tanya hovered close by with my mom and dad. Thankfully Heidi and Aunt Di had taken Maddie and Masen back to the loft to sleep. It was incredibly hard convincing them to leave, especially Masen, but I told them they could come back first thing in the morning. I knew saying that was probably not the smartest thing to do, but they had more than earned the right to be here with the rest of the family, no matter that they were only eight-years-old. Bella was their mother and she would want them close by so here is where they would be with the rest of us.

Our family filled the small space, since there was no way I was telling anyone to stay behind. We filed in and I sat down and waited for everyone to find a place to sit or stand so that I could, that we could, find out how Bella was doing.

Once everyone was still, Dr. Owens spoke. "We finally got Bella stabilized and she'll be heading up to the ICU once she is through in recovery. I'm not going to lie to you, Edward, or to any of your family. It was a struggle to save her…and we lost her more than once on the table."

I felt my life stop, like I literally left my body when the words he just said registered with me.


More than once.

I started hyperventilating when my thoughts spun out of control and it was Emmett's voice I heard first. "Edward, stop. Breathe man, breathe with me. You didn't lose her," he said as he held my face in his hands and breathed with me until I calmed down.

"Em," I said pitifully and he nodded at me with tears in his eyes.

"I know brother but she's still here and still fighting okay? Bella needs her Superman, Edward. Be strong for her," he said as he let go of my face but still held onto my arm.

I took a deep breath and faced Dr. Owens again, feeling my mom and dad's hands on my shoulders and Ali's in my other hand.

"As you know," the doctor went on once he knew I was listening again, "the bullet entered Bella's chest, shattering two ribs and punctured her lung in the process. We had some trouble getting the bullet out and she lost a lot of blood. We finally were able to remove it and repaired the damage to the ribs and the artery that got nicked," he said and then looked intently at me when I moaned loudly. "Edward, are you ready to hear the rest?"

"Fuck there's more?" Seth groaned and Dr. Owens nodded gravely.

"Yes, I'm afraid there is."

"In all honesty, now that we have her in very critical but stable condition, the head injury Bella suffered is what has me most concerned right now. She has some severe swelling in her brain and she has slipped into a coma. We won't know the extent of the brain damage, or if there is any, until she wakes up," he said seriously as he stared at me.

"No…Jesus…no!" I cried out as my shoulders began to shake as the words…we lost her…swelling…coma…brain damage…reverberated in my mind.

"How long until we know?" I croaked; the words painful to even ask.

Dr. Owens blew out a breath before he began to answer me. "A lot will depend on Bella, Edward. She's suffered a severe trauma and her body has to work exceptionally hard right now. She needs time to rest and recover but the longer she stays in a coma, the more worried I'll be. Things are going to be very critical for Bella for at least the next forty-eight to seventy-two hours. We have a long way to go yet before I'll feel confident enough to tell you we're out of the woods," he finished.

I tried to keep the tears from coming, but it was no use and they flowed freely down my face as I shook between my brother and sister. My parents held onto me and all I wanted was to see my love.

"Can I see her?" I begged.

"As soon as we get her up to ICU, yes, but only for a few minutes," he said and when I crumpled he amended, "I'll make special arrangements for you to be able to stay with her, Edward. You are a doctor on staff here and I'm sure the nurses can trust you to keep out of their way."

I nodded mutely at him, too overcome to even thank him properly for all he'd done.

"If you need anything please don't hesitate to let me know. I'm very sorry this happened, Edward; I'll do my best to help Bella have a full recovery. I hope you know that."

"Yes, sir, I do. Thank you for all you've done," I managed to whisper as he left the room.

"Edward, I'm going to ask Jackson a few more questions. I'll be right back," my dad said and kissed the top of my head.

I looked around the table at my family and was met with the devastated looks each and every one of them had.

"She's going to be fine," I told them all as my eyes swept around the table. "She has to be," I whispered.

Carlisle came back in, his eyes rimmed with red. I knew he'd been crying but I couldn't ask if he was okay. To be honest, I wasn't sure I wanted to know. There was no telling what Dr. Owens told my dad that he hadn't told the rest of us.

"Edward, Jackson said we could go up to the ICU in about an hour. Is there anything you need?" he asked.

The only place I wanted to be I couldn't go to yet so I picked the next best place. "I'm going to the chapel. I'll be back when it's time to go up to the ICU," I muttered as I stood up on shaky legs.

"Do you want anyone to come with you?" my mother asked and I shook my head.

"I think I'd like to be alone for a bit," I told her and then stepped forward to hug her.

She sobbed quietly in my arms and I heard the sniffles and hiccups from the others in the room as well but I couldn't face any of them…didn't want to really.

I needed to be alone and then I needed to see my sweet, beautiful, beyond brave girl.

I made my way through the mostly quiet hallways and found the chapel on the first floor. Thankfully since it was later at night, this part of the hospital was blessedly devoid of the hustle and bustle that one would normally find during the day. I was in no mood and honestly in no fucking shape to deal with anyone. I was having a hell of a time just being around my family, let alone perfect strangers.

The chapel was as empty as the hallways had been and as the doors shut behind me, the silence was overwhelming. Not oppressive in any way because I'd never felt that way entering here or church, but it was a hallowed, reverential peace that settled around me. I took a few deep breaths before I walked forward, looking up at the small altar and the crucifix that hung behind it. There were a few stained glass windows along the back wall, and even though it was dark outside, the pictures they portrayed were still beautiful. I took a few steps trying to sit in a pew toward the front when my legs gave out and I collapsed in one about halfway up the aisle.

I hung my head and rested my forehead on the back of the pew in front of me and fell to my knees. The events of the past few hours rushed to the forefront of my mind and overwhelmed me as image after image flickered through as if a slide show was playing.

Bella smiling when I kissed her goodbye in her dressing room…Bella waving and giving me a wink while she strutted down the runway…the look of pure relief and elation when I saw her when the show was over…the horrified look on her face when we saw Jane holding the gun…the way she screamed no when she pushed me out the way…the way she struggled against the pain to tell me she loved me and the kids…the way her hand felt in mine right before I had to let her go.

All of it, image after image after torturous image. The way she looked, the way she felt, the way she sounded…all played on a continuous loop.

"Why?" I cried out as I finally just fucking…let everything go.

Pain, anger, frustration, pure unadulterated fear and anguish. All of it expended in heaving, wracking sobs that tore through my body. I felt like I was completely annihilated, like I had been turned inside out and was picked apart…like there was nothing left.

I wanted to rage at God, at the devil…at someone, anyone for letting something like this happen to my beautiful, magnificent Bella. She saved me…she sacrificed herself for me. I couldn't even quite wrap my head around that. Of course I knew without a shadow of a fucking doubt that if it had been her that was threatened I would have done the same thing, but it didn't make accepting the reality any fucking easier either.

I thought about Maddie and Masen…my beautiful children who'd just finally found their true mother. I had no doubt that Bella had been destined to be in that park on that day six months ago. I had no doubt that every twist and painful turn in both our lives led us to that moment. There was no other way to explain the fact that the most perfect person to complete our circle just happened to cross our path.

"Please don't take her from me, I beg you," I prayed.

I bargained.

I begged.

I demanded.

I asked for forgiveness.

I prayed some more.


Emmett POV

"Emmett, follow him and make sure he's okay," Pop told me.

We'd all watched, unable to do fucking anything as he walked away. What the hell do you tell a man whose entire reason for living was fighting for her life? After listening to Dr. Owens it bordered on cruel to tell Edward everything was going to be okay when there were no guarantees Bella would be.

Jesus Christ I hoped she would be; we all needed her to be.

"Em, babe, wait," my Rosie said hoarsely, her voice barely above a whisper.

I held my hand out to her and waited for her to come to my side. As much as it was killing me to see Edward in pain, it was almost worse watching my girl be devastated over his girl.

She kissed Jasper on the cheek and hurried to me and then we headed for the chapel.

"Em," Rose said softly.

I sighed deeply, my breath catching in my throat, "I know honey but we have to believe she'll be okay."

"I don't know what I would…she's my sister, Em…why?" she begged me, her bottomless blue eyes buried beneath her tears.

I wrapped my arm around her, her body shook as we shuffled our way down the mostly quiet hallways toward the chapel. "Rosie, honey, I don't know. We may never know why or how…but that doesn't matter right now. All that matters is keeping Edward together so that he can be here for Bella when she wakes up."

Rose nodded and wrapped her arm around my waist and leaned on me as we walked. As we approached the chapel doors, we could hear Edward's sobs all the way out in the hall. Keening, wailing sobs echoed in the air and I almost fell to my knees because the sounds tore through me so ferociously.

I managed to lean against the wall, my arm lifted above my head as I rested my forehead against the cool, white tile.

How the hell does someone have that kind of pain, that kind of despair inside of them and not completely collapse under the weight? I'd never heard anything that pierced through me the way my brother just sounded. Edward was, without a doubt the strongest person I'd ever come across. Through all my years in sports and even in the NFL, there wasn't anyone I'd ever met that had the mental fortitude my brother had. His faith, his trust in himself, his love of his family and those around him…no one could hold a candle to my brother. And now…he just sounded completely broken.

I turned when I heard Rose's hiccups and watched as she stared at the doors to the chapel, her hand on the handle.

"Babe?" I questioned when she still didn't move.

"He won't survive if something happens to Bella. We'll lose them both," she said, tears making tracks down her beautiful face.

Edward's sobs had softened somewhat to where they were barely heard through the door and somehow that was even worse.

"I love you, Emmett," my Rosie said before she opened the door and walked through.

I knew Edward said he wanted to be alone but I had a feeling they could help each other, so I didn't try to stop her. I followed her through the door, sitting in the very back pew and held my breath as my girl slid in beside Edward and silently reached down and took his hand in hers.

Edward's cries had quieted but his shoulders still shook and you could hear his heavy breathing as he tried to calm himself. He had sat back up on the pew and his head had fallen forward on his shoulders which looked so weary and burdened from all he'd tried to carry.

"Did Bella ever tell you about the time she fell out of the tree when she was fourteen?" Rose's quiet voice asked and floated in the air.

Edward didn't look at her but he shook his head no.

Rose chuckled softly, though it sounded loud in the small, quiet space. "You should have seen her, Edward. My idiot brother and Seth had decided to be total jackasses one Friday night and got mad at Bella because she kept beating them when we were playing kick the can. We had a group of about twelve kids playing and Jasper and Seth were both 'It'. Every damn time they would find someone and send them to jail, Bella would come out of her hiding place and free them and they could never catch her. Finally everyone had to go home and Jasper and Seth were pissed that she beat them again so they dared her to climb a tree. They were going to race her up to the top and then back down. They both thought since they were so much stronger than her, they'd beat her no problem. Well of course they didn't count on the fact that she was smaller and faster than either one of them. It was a pretty close race though and on the way down Bella's foot slipped and she fell about ten feet down to the ground. Of course she beat both of the boys to the bottom that way. After we'd argued and had Sue come and decide that even though she'd fallen for the last part of the race, she still beat them to the bottom they grudgingly admitted she won and we all went inside to have dinner and do our usually Friday night summer thing and spent the night in the tree house. Sometime during the night I heard Bella moaning in her sleep and then followed her into the house. Sue was still up and looked at her ankle which was swollen and black and blue from spraining it so badly when she fell. Bella had a game as usual the next day and both Sue and I tried to convince her to sit the game out but she shook her head and said there was no way she was missing the game due to a, and I quote, 'dinky ass sprain'."

Edward even laughed at that because that sounded exactly like something Bella would say.

I chuckled softly, hoping that Edward didn't hear, and shook my head as I imagined my Sweet B stubbornly refusing to admit she was hurt…or that Jasper and Seth had gotten the best of her.

Rose smiled and went on. "She begged Sue not to say anything to Charlie so we put some ice on it and then Sue wrapped it. Bella woke up the next morning, refusing to limp at all and acted like nothing was wrong. She did play in that game and scored three goals even. It was that game that the first scouts noticed her and to this day I'm positive Jasper and Seth don't know she played while she was hurt," Rosie finished wistfully.

"Edward, Bella is the strongest person I know. She'll fight like hell to make it through this. You have to believe that…believe in her. She has way too much to live for to give up. Bella finally is able to live the life she wants with you, Maddie, and Masen and there is no fucking way she's giving the bitch that did this to her the satisfaction of winning. Bella has never, ever backed down from a fight in her life, Edward, and she's not about to do it now when what is waiting for her at the end is everything she's ever wanted. Be strong for her, Edward, help her fight. Together you two are stronger than anything anyone has ever seen," Rose said, tears pouring down her gorgeous face.

I knew Edward heard her…really heard her because he swiped at the tears on his own face and then sat up a little straighter and held his head up.

That was the Edward Anthony Cullen I'd admired my whole life. The one that would face things without backing down, the one that when faced with what seemed like the impossible, made it look easy. Like I said, he was the strongest person I'd ever known and together he and Bella were quite the force to reckoned with. That was not to say that he'd never been afraid…or that he wouldn't continue to be scared that something would happen to Bella, but it would never keep him from moving forward. Ever. My brother just didn't work that way.

I knew it was going to take all of us…and most especially Bella herself to help Edward get over what had happened. I raced across that street earlier tonight with my dad, Alec, and Riley; Seth, Jasper, Ben, and Demetri following close behind when we all realized that something was wrong.

It was taking way too long for Edward and Bella to make it to the party, even allowing for the alone time we all knew they wanted and needed. The whole way there, which really only took minutes, I prayed that we wouldn't find what we ultimately did. Alec and Riley burst through the door when we heard Bella scream no…and it was a sound I'm not sure I'd ever forget. Everything erupted in chaos but over it all, over the shouts and the gunfire as they subdued Jane, all I could hear was Edward screaming at Bella and then screaming for our dad to help him save her.

With everything that was happening around him, his focus never wavered for even an instant from Bella. She was all he saw…all he cared about. Hearing his voice as he begged for her to hang on, as he told her he loved her, that the kids loved her, tore me up inside.

I picked my head up off the pew when a sound brought me back to the present and I shivered when I imagined something happening to my Rosie, imagined having to watch her suffer the way Edward had watched Bella. I felt physically ill at the mere thought of it.

How the man was still standing, how he was still able to function was totally beyond me. I knew he hadn't had the time to really think about things yet, and he wouldn't until he knew Bella would be okay. For now, there was nothing else he could think about besides that, and that was they way it should be. I was going to do everything within my power to do whatever he needed, for however long he needed.

He deserved happiness damn it, after all he'd sacrificed and endured to raise Maddie and Masen. It was finally his fucking turn. I would be damned if some fucking sorry excuse of a human being was going to take away my brother's other half and my sister. Not happening…no fucking way.

I looked up at the front of the chapel and silently slid out of the pew. I walked to the corner where the statue of Saint Joseph was and kneeled on the kneeler and lit a candle. I bent my head to say a quick prayer.

I prayed for Bella to survive and recover, I prayed for Edward and for him to have the strength to endure all he would have to face. I prayed for Maddie and Masen and for our abilities as the adults in their lives to help them deal with everything. I prayed for my parents and for my sister that we would be strong enough to help Edward and Bella as they put this ordeal behind them. I prayed for Jasper and Seth, my new brothers and then I prayed for my Rose. I'd listened to her more than once since this nightmare started cry herself to sleep as I held her because she was so scared for Bella and Edward. I loved Rose with all my heart and I knew how she came off to a lot of people but she loved Bella and Edward so intensely no one could ever doubt how she felt about either of them.

I'd found out much about Bella from listening to Rose when she reminisced or when she told stories of when they were younger. Seth, Jasper, Rose, and Bella were a bit similar to me, Edward, Ali, Tanya, and Demetri, but our ages were spread out more than theirs and we all eventually had our own groups of friends. For the four of them, no matter where they went or who was dating whoever else, when it came time for important events, they were always side by side. It was a bit intimidating at first I had to admit. Even Edward felt that way. We may have been the ones that had been blessed to still have our parents with us and had a big, loving family, but their little family could put many to shame in terms of support and love that was for sure.

I heard Edward's quiet chuckle and bowed my head one last time and made the sign of the cross before saying Amen and stood up. I had never loved Rose more than I did right at that moment because she had her head bent next to Edward's and they were both smiling at something she was whispering to him. I watched him nod his head and squeeze her hand before he knelt forward, pulling her beside him as they said a quick prayer and then repeated the same motions of making the sign of the cross and the same quiet, reverential Amen before they stood.

"Let's go see our girl," Edward said softly and then walked out of the chapel and back to his Bella.



Emmett, Rose, and I made our way back up to the ICU waiting room finally. Rose wouldn't let go of my hand until we'd reached my parents and even then, she did so reluctantly. When she tried to walk away, I pulled her back to me, crushing her to my chest.

"Rosalie Lillian Whitlock someday soon to be Cullen, I love you. Thank you so much for earlier, for being here for not only me but for our girl too. I look forward to the day when I can truly call you my sister," I whispered in her ear, and then held her face in my hands and kissed her forehead.

I gave my brother a quick hug and a kiss and then went to sit with my parents to wait. I wasn't too ashamed to want to feel their arms around me, to help remind me that I didn't have to face all of this alone. Not that I ever truly would have been alone, not as long as my family was around at any rate.

"Edward," Dr. Owens said quietly as he approached the waiting room. "You can go in and see Bella now, if you'd like. I must warn you, her body has suffered some severe damage so you need to be prepared for what you will see," he said as he looked around the room. "I'll let you all have a few minutes to speak to her, but only two at a time and for no more than five minutes at a time. She is still in extremely critical condition, Edward. The bullet did moderate damage to the right coronary artery which we were finally able to get under control. As you know, the chances for infection are quite high for the next forty-eight to seventy-two hours. We'll be paying very close attention to ensure she doesn't get a fever. Edward," he said as he glanced in my direction. "I've made arrangements with the nurses on duty and have left strict instructions that you are to be allowed to stay with her. You shouldn't run into any problems as far as that goes, but if you do, have your dad page me immediately. Bella needs you and there is no reason why you can't be with her as long as she stays in stable condition," he finished.

Allowing me to stay in the room with her went so far and above anything that was normal protocol and if I would have been more with it, I would have thanked him properly. As it was, I stood and offered him my hand, "Dr. Owens, thank you so much for what you've done for her. I'll never be able to thank you enough," I said, choking up on my words.

"It's been my pleasure to help you and your family, Edward. However, we still have a long way to go, alright? Let's save the thanks for once Bella is out of the woods shall we?" he asked and then strode back to her room.

"Edward?" my dad asked as motioned toward Bella's room.

I looked around at everyone and though my body was screaming for me to go to her, I looked first at Seth and Jasper. "You all take your turns first. Go. She'll want to hear your voices and I know you need to see her," I whispered hoarsely as I watched their eyes fill with tears.

"Are you sure, Edward?" Jasper asked and I stepped forward to him and pulled him into a hug.

"You've taken care of her a hell of a lot longer than I have, Jasper, of course I'm sure. Now, go see your Shortcake and tell her I'll be in soon," I said.

They each hugged me and then hurried into the room. I couldn't bear to hear them break down again so I walked back toward the uncomfortable waiting room chairs and sat down.

I felt a head on my shoulder and looked down into the strawberry blonde hair of my oldest friend. I wanted to call her my best friend, but I really couldn't any longer…just like she couldn't for me. I was okay with that though, and I knew she was too. It was just a part of life.

"I'll always be here if you need me, Edward. No matter what, okay?" she whispered and reached down to my hand and wrapped her pinky around mine like we used to when we were younger. "No matter how much time goes by or how far apart we may get, I'll always be your Tan and you'll always be my E. Friends forever, Edward, we promised," Tanya said and then leaned in to kiss my cheek. "We may have new best friends now, Edward, but you'll always be with me. I love you," she whispered and then walked toward Seth who just exited Bella's room.

He had tears falling down his face and he sagged against Tanya so much it was a wonder she was able to keep him upright. Jasper was in much the same condition when Alice hurried to his side and the four of them walked down the hallway I'd gone down earlier. I had a feeling our family would be spending as much time in the chapel as they did in the waiting room. More if I was to be perfectly honest.

Emmett and Rose went in next and Rose's…as well as Emmett's sobs could be heard through the door.

"Edward, Diane and Heidi called and wanted to let you know that the kids finally went to sleep," Uncle Marcus said as he sat down beside me in the seat Tanya had just been in.

"Thank God for that," I breathed out, so very thankful that they were home, that they were safe. They were a long way from okay, but like the rest of us, as long as Bella was okay, they both would be too.

"Masen wouldn't sleep anywhere but in your bed, on Bella's side of course. He even dug out her Yankee's jersey and put it on Diane said," he chuckled.

"Did they ask anymore about Bella?" I wondered aloud, knowing they did.

My heart ached as I thought about Maddie and Masen curled up in our bed, wondering if their mommy was alright. I wanted them with me, truly I did, but this was no place for eight-year-olds. I knew that. I also knew that my kids, my son especially would wake up demanding to be brought up here first thing in the morning and I knew, appropriate or not, he'd see Bella when he got here.

We'd waited too damn long for her to waste even a moment on semantics. She was their mother and they deserved, as much as any of us, the chance to see her.

"Of course they did, Edward. Your children are the most perceptive eight-year-olds anyone has ever seen. Diane told them you would call them first thing in the morning, it was the only way she could get them to agree to lay down. Maddie hasn't said very much and Masen has been taking care of her," my uncle said with a shake of his head. "That boy reminds me so much of you, it's like turning back time," he whispered and then looked at me, tears in his eyes.

He looked so old all of a sudden, but I suppose it was the same for all of us. It had been a hell of a few months and it had finally taken its toll. "Edward, you need to be strong now. I know you've carried so much for so long now, but you have to do it again. For Maddie, for Masen, but most importantly for that woman in there. She needs all you've got to give my boy," he said through his heavy breaths as he struggled to keep his tears at bay.

"Bella saved me, Uncle Marcus. I'll never be able to live with myself if something happens to her," I whispered, my voice filled with anguish.

"I know she did, Edward, but now it's your turn to save her. She won't make it back to us without you, you know that right? Her will to live for you and for her kids is what is going to save her," he told me before he stood up as Emmett and Rose left the room. My uncle kissed me before he and Demetri took their turn with Bella.

"Edward, Rose and I are going down to the cafeteria, you want anything?" my brother asked.

"Em, you and Rose should go home. Dr. Owens said the next chance you'd get to see her wouldn't be until seven A.M.," I told him, looking at the clock for the first time in hours.

Shit, it was already past three in the damn morning…of course it felt like we'd already been in this God forsaken hospital for days rather than six hours or so.

"Not on your life brother mine. I'm not leaving you until Bella walks out of here with you. Now, you want anything or not?" he asked again and I shook my head, too exhausted to argue.

I knew I needed to ask him if he'd talked to Alec and Riley, if he'd heard anything about Jane, if anyone else had gotten hurt…but I just didn't have the will to open my mouth and ask. Frankly, with the exception of making sure no one else got hurt because of that psycho bitch, I could give a shit less about any of it. Whatever deluded, fucked up dream world she'd lived in, whatever slight, imagined or real she thought had happened to her, whatever fucking daddy issues she had going on…I didn't care one damn bit. What I did care about was making sure if she wasn't already dead and residing in the fiery pits of hell, she spent the rest of her time on this Earth knowing that I would stop at nothing to make sure she paid for what she did.


Demetri and my uncle stepped out of the room looking much like the others when they exited …devastated. It was going to be a fucking long time before anyone in my family recovered from all of this. I supposed it was what families did, rallied around those in need, but even for a family as strong as mine, this was going to be quite the test.

"Son, your mother and I are going to take our turn now. We'll be out in a few minutes," my dad said and held onto my mom.

I nodded at him, too damn spent to do much else. I could feel Bella, she was so close to me and my body knew it. I started getting that feeling, the one I got every single time she was near, the one I only felt with her. I bent forward and rested my elbows on my knees and closed my eyes and took a few deep, cleansing breaths as I tried to will my body to wait just a bit longer to see her.

"Edward," Seth said as he sat down next to me. "What can we do for you? What do you need besides the obvious?"

Sitting up I looked at my love's oldest and most trusted friend. He looked about as horrid as I imagined I did. His eyes were puffy and red from crying, the tip of his nose was red, his clothes were wrinkled, and when I looked down, the knuckles on his left hand were a bloody mess.

I quirked my eyebrow at him in question and he shrugged his shoulders and said, "You should see the wall."

Been there, done that so I knew exactly what he meant.

"As soon as you go in with Bella, I'm taking Tanya back to the loft to change and check on the kids. What do you need?" Seth asked and I was so grateful to him right then.

"Kiss the kids for me first of all and make sure Masen is alright. Tanya always seems to be able to talk to him. Just have her…just tell her to make sure he knows I love him and I'm sorry I failed him," I said hoarsely.

"Edward. Man, no," Seth said and I shook my head at him. "Seth, he has every right to be angry with me and its okay. He's eight-years-old and he's confused and scared. When they both come in the morning, I'll talk to him then. Maybe seeing Bella will help him," I explained.

"Are you sure it's a good idea for Maddie and Masen to see her like that?" Jasper hesitantly asked and I shook my head and let out a painful huff.

"How the hell do I know, Jasper? I do know that they deserve to be here just like the rest of you do. She is their mother for God's sake and they have more than earned the right to wait with the family. Maybe seeing her will help them, I don't know. I know if that was my mother in there, nothing could keep me away, no matter how old I was," I told him wondering how in the hell I would even begin to explain all of this to them.

"Well, we all know how much they love her, and she them in return, so I think you're right," he said with a sigh.

"I do need a few things though, from the house." I looked at them both when thought about what I needed. "Bring me the photo album and the baby book from the living room. I need someone," I choked when I thought about having to go back to that place, "to get her bag from her dressing room. I only really need her stuffed rhino and her iPod, I could give a shit about the rest." I took a deep breath and then finished what I knew she would want. "Have Rose or Ali get her some pajamas, just some bottoms and a t-shirt. Make sure you get her some socks, too, her feet always get cold at night," I said with a sob. I breathed in and out a few times before I went on, "Look beside our bed and bring me her Winnie the Pooh book as well as her copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. I need the picture of the four of us from Father's Day, too," I finished.

"Anything else?" Seth questioned as he stood up.

"Not that I can think of right at the moment. Jasper, are you and Ali leaving?" I asked as I heard my parents come out of the room.

"You're kidding right? Ali isn't going anywhere without you and Emmett and since he's not leaving you, neither is she. I'm going to try to get her to go home and change though so we can be back for the next time we're allowed in," he said sadly and wiped his eyes.

"Edward, she's going to make it. I know she will," Seth whispered as he gave me a hug and then turned and left.

I watched him leave, knowing he was suffering as much as the rest of us were. After all, he'd been with her longer than all of us.

"He's right, you know. Shortcake is a fighter and she'll be okay," Jasper said forcefully.

I couldn't speak anymore so I merely nodded. It was my turn to go in and all I could think about was seeing her. "Tell Ali I love her and I'll see you guys when you come back," I told him quickly and then walked to my parents.

"Edward, Marcus is going to take your mother home so she can change. Do you need her to bring you anything back?" my dad asked as he wrapped an arm around my shoulder.

I shook my head, not looking at him but staring at Bella's door. My fingers twitched knowing she was so close and I was about to be able to touch her.

"I love you, Edward," Mama said through her tears as she kissed my cheek and stepped back.

"I love you, too. Thank you for being here," I said automatically even though I knew no thanks were expected or necessary.

My dad reached out for my hand when the pull to see Bella became too great to resist any longer. "Son, I'll be right out here if you need me. I'm going to walk your mother to the car, but I'll be right back," he said and then cleared his throat. "Edward, are you sure you don't need anyone to go in with you? It will be quite a shock when you see her," he said warily.

I shook my head instantly. No matter what condition she was in, no matter how many tubes and machines she had hooked up to her, she was still my Bella beneath it all and that was all that mattered…it was all I needed.

"I need to be alone with her Pop. I'll be okay," I assured him and kissed them each one more time before turning to walk to the door. I passed the nurses station on my way and received assuring smiles from them all. I stopped outside her door and took a deep breath.

Without turning around to see my parents, who I knew were waiting for me to go in before they left, I pushed open the door and stepped inside.

The first thing I noticed was the soft wooshing sound of the oxygen as it pumped. I heard the steady beep of the heart monitor. I noticed her tiny hand where the IV was connected, wrapped in a bandage. I noticed the ugly hospital gown that she wore.

I was finally able to move my eyes to her beautiful face. She was so fucking pale but she looked like she was merely sleeping, not fighting for her life. There were patches of blood on the hospital gown on the left side where the bullet wound obviously was and it reminded me how close we'd already come to losing her tonight.

Numerous times.

I walked closer and was frozen in place when I noticed the missing hair on the left side of her head. I fell against the wall as my eyes filled with tears while I rubbed my chest, futilely trying to rid the pain that exploded there.

"Oh angel," I cried out as I stepped to the side of the bed and looked down on her through watery eyes. I reached down to touch the bare spot, struggling with why somehow it was more upsetting to see part of her beautiful hair missing than the fact that she was hooked up to monitors and tubes that were helping keep her alive at the moment.

I bent down and kissed her forehead and then her cheek before I whispered, "My beautiful, brave, precious love. I love you so much. You rest now and let your body heal baby, we're all here waiting for you to come back to us."

I stared at her silently for untold minutes until I heard the door open and the night nurse walked in. "Dr. Cullen, I'm Vanessa. I'll be on duty for the night shift for the next five days and I've already spoken with Dr. Owens. Don't worry, as long as Ms. Swan remains in stable condition, you won't get any trouble from me about being in here," she said as she checked Bella's vital signs and recorded them on her chart.

"Is there anything I can get you?" she asked once she was finished.

I picked up Bella's hand and realized her ring was missing, as was her bracelet and necklace.

"Where are her things?" I questioned and she looked at me. "Her jewelry is missing. I want her to have it back. She never takes them off," I said as I ran my fingers down her pale, cool cheek ignoring the tears that fell down my own.

"I'll get them for you and bring them back. Is there anything else?" she kindly asked and I shook my head, not looking up.

I couldn't help it. I couldn't stop staring at Bella long enough to pick my head up and I heard the door close quietly behind the nurse as she left.

I reached behind me and pulled the uncomfortable looking chair forward so that I could sit down.

"Its okay baby, we'll get your necklace, bracelet, and ring back on in no time. I know you hate to take them off for any reason," I said tenderly as I pushed her hair back off her forehead.

I sat quietly with her until Vanessa returned with Bella's things and I waited until we were alone again before I moved to her.

I pulled the necklace out first, cringing when I noticed the blood on it. I walked quickly to the bathroom and got a cloth to clean it, my stomach churning almost painfully all the while. I tried not to focus on where the blood came from and concentrated on getting it clean and back on her where it belonged.

I gently reached behind her neck when I reached her side again and fastened the necklace. I ran my fingers over the diamond encrusted heart and laid it reverently against her chest. "There my sweet girl, back where it belongs," I breathed out. I repeated the process with her ring and bracelet and when I sat down I knew…fucking knew…it made a difference to her, that she could somehow tell they were back on her body.

I leaned forward and held her small, cold hand in mine and kissed the back of it softly. "Rest now angel. You need to hurry up and get better. We all need you too much; I need you too much to be without you for too long." I unnecessarily fixed the blankets that covered her, wanting to keep touching her as long as possible, just to reinforce that she was indeed still here.

"I love you my Bella, with all my heart and with every ounce of my being. You fight for us my love, please," I whispered and settled into the chair to hold vigil over her still, battered body.

The night passed in a blur of beeps, whooshes, and whirrs and before I knew it, the morning nurse came in. "Hello Dr. Cullen, my name is Abby and I'll be Bella's nurse today. How was her night?" she asked me pleasantly and I rubbed my burning eyes.

"She was so still," I muttered softly and leaned forward to kiss Bella's cheek.

"Well, her body needs the rest, so that is good. You have a waiting room full of people already waiting to see her. Is it alright if I send them in two at a time?" she asked as she marked down all of Bella's information.

"Can I stay too?" I questioned. The thought of leaving, even to let the family visit, was so painful it took my breath away.

"As long as they only stay a few minutes apiece, it's okay. She needs as much rest and quiet as possible, Dr. Cullen," she said as she walked toward the door.

I nodded in agreement with her and my parents were the first ones through the door. My dad made a beeline for Bella's chart and my mom rushed to my side. "Son, are you holding up okay?" she asked and I shrugged my shoulders in answer.

"As long as Bella stays alright, I will too," I murmured as I turned to look at my angel again.

"Well son, it looks like the last few hours have gone by without incident. This is good news, you know how critical the first hours are," he commented.

"Yes, Pop, I do," I answered tiredly.

"Edward, you should go get some breakfast," Mama told me but I just shook my head. "Mama, I'm not leaving Bella's side if I can help it," I said stubbornly.

"I'll have Emmett bring you something then," she said and turned to fuss over Bella, though it was a totally unneeded effort. I'd been doing the same thing all night myself.

"Son, Demetri and Heidi are bringing the kids in just a little bit," my dad said quietly as he stepped to the side of bed and took his place next to my mom.

"Okay," I answered. I wanted to see them but I was so scared this would be too much for them.

"She's so pale," my dad whispered quietly as he ran his fingers over the back of her hand.

I picked up her other hand and didn't respond to him. I stared at Bella, trying to will her to feel me, to take whatever strength she needed from me to add to her own.

My parents each kissed her and then me before they wordlessly left and the others took their turns too. Seth dropped off a bag that held what I had asked him to bring, Emmett left some breakfast on the tray. Alice brought a new, soft yellow blanket and laid it over Bella's legs. Jasper and Rose held hands and said a quick prayer together before kissing Bella on the forehead. Tanya left a bottle of water beside the chair. I recognized every movement they made but didn't really pay much attention. In the bright light of the morning, Bella looked even paler and more frail than she did in the dark of night. It was unnerving to see her so still, without even the flutter of an eyelid.

When they'd all had their turn there was a soft knock on the door and I knew it was Demetri with Maddie and Masen.

"Baby, I'll be right back," I whispered as I went to open the door and I stepped out in the much too bright hallway.

The hospital was abuzz with activity and it startled me for a moment after the almost silence of Bella's room. I hadn't even bothered to turn the television on yet.

I motioned for Demetri and Heidi to see Bella while I talked with the kids for a minute.

"Hey guys, did you sleep okay?" I asked, somewhat stupidly.

Maddie stepped forward and wrapped her little arms around my waist and I kneeled down so that I could look her in the eyes. "I love you princess," I said softly and kissed her forehead. "You, too, Masen," I said when I turned to him.

He scowled at me and turned his head and I sighed painfully. Jesus the kid was killing me. Well, whether he liked it or not, he needed to listen before he could go in the room so I led them back to the sofa where we sat before.

"In a few minutes you two can go in and see Mommy but you need to know a few things first, okay?" I asked and waited until they both nodded their heads at me. "Mommy is sleeping and she can't wake up yet so I don't want you to get upset or worried if you try to talk to her and she doesn't move or answer you. Do you understand?" I questioned. I knew the machines and the wires and tubes would frighten them but I wanted them to know ahead of time what Bella would look like when they saw her. "You can talk to her and its okay to touch her, but you have to be careful of her bandages," I said and looked from one to the other. "Do either of you have any questions?" When they both shook their heads I stood up and held my hands out to them. "Okay then, let's go see Mommy."

My heart pounded in my chest; I knew this was going to devastate them. It was so much for them to try to understand, especially since all of us adults were having a hard time, too. I took a deep breath as we approached the door and opened it slowly. Demetri and Heidi smiled as we walked in and as they passed me on the way out, gave us each a kiss. "Keep the faith cousin. Love you," Dem said as he hugged me quickly and then closed the door behind him, leaving just me and my family.

I felt Maddie's hand shaking in mine and she had tears coming out of her eyes when she looked up at me. "Can I give her a kiss?" she whispered and when I nodded I watched with a heart I didn't think could break any more do so as she tentatively approached the bed and then leaned over and kissed Bella on the cheek. "I love you Mommy," Maddie said quietly as she looked at her.

"She looks like she's sleeping," Maddie said and I nodded.

"Yes she does baby. Right now her body is working really hard to get better so it's best if she stays asleep. She can hear you if you want to talk to her," I encouraged.

Masen hadn't moved and I looked down at him. "Masen, you can go see her too," I prodded.

He shook his head. His entire little body began to shake and then he looked at me, swiping his eyes to rid the tears that were falling. "This is my fault!" he wailed and I swore to Christ nothing had ever pierced my soul as painfully as my eight-year-old son blaming himself for failing his mother.

"Masen, no…son, no!" I exclaimed as I fell to my knees in front of him. His face was completely ashen and he shook his head and tried to push me away when I attempted to wrap my arms around him.

"It is! I shouldn't have let you send me away. I asked you to let me stay and you told me you would keep Mommy safe if I went with Maddie up to the lake…but you didn't. You let her get hurt! If I would have been here I could have helped you, maybe then we could have kept her from getting hurt!" he yelled out and then collapsed against me. I held him while he cried, his body heaving until his cries turned to whimpers.

"Masen, my sweet, brave boy," I said, my own tears making it difficult to see. "Don't you ever, not for one second, blame yourself for any of this, do you hear me? I know you are sad and scared and confused but you need to believe me when I tell you there is nothing that you could have done to help me or Mommy. You did what we asked and went to the lake to help keep Maddie safe. You did your job. I'm the one that messed up buddy, not you," I told him and then crushed him to my chest again and he wrapped his arms around my neck and squeezed.

"It's not your fault either Daddy. That bad person that hurt her, they did the bad thing, not you," he whispered and then I felt Maddie's arms wrap around both of us. We sat on the floor and grieved for Bella and I tried to comfort them as best I could.

I still wouldn't promise them she would be okay, because there was no way to know that yet.

"Okay," I said as I maneuvered so I could stand. "Let's talk to Mommy for a minute," I said encouragingly and led them both to the bed.

"I really can give her a kiss?" Masen questioned and I nodded my head and watched with a heavy heart as he kissed her cheek and then stared at the spot on her head where the hair was missing and the bandage was.

"I know it looks scary Mase, but the doctor's needed to fix where she bumped her head," I said softly.

"When will she wake up?" Maddie asked timidly and I placed my hand on her head and ran my fingers through her soft hair. "We're not sure baby. Mommy's body is really tired right now so she needs to sleep for a long time to get better," I told them both, silently praying she would wake up sooner rather than later.

I let them stay a few more minutes before I ushered them out the door.

"Can we come back later?" Maddie asked and I nodded my head.

"Of course you can, Maddie. I'm going to stay with Mommy though, okay? You guys will be okay with the rest of the family, but know that I am thinking about you all the time and if you need me, just tell someone, alright?" I asked.

I was so torn and I felt like hell sending them away but there was no way I could leave Bella right now. I hoped they understood and prayed that when this was over we could find a way to spend some time together, just the four of us.

"Love you Daddy," they each told me before I walked back into Bella's room…to wait for the rest of our family to come back to us.


Over the next few days, we developed somewhat of a routine. I got to know all of the nurses by name and all were, without fail very good at their jobs. I knew I had received special consideration since both my dad and I were on staff here but I couldn't really find it in myself to care too much about that. I would have refused to leave Bella's side anyway, so in my mind, being able to stay with her just alleviated that hassle all together.

By the third day, I'd also been informed that if I didn't take a shower and walk down to the cafeteria and eat a somewhat decent meal, the entire family was staging an intervention. So, it was with much trepidation that I turned over watching Bella to my mother and took a shower in the on-call room and met Father O'Connor in the cafeteria for breakfast.

I had to admit that the shower felt amazing, as well as the shave and then the food…even though most days it left a lot to be desired. It was nice to get out of the room for a bit, even though I had to force myself not to rush back upstairs as soon as I was done eating.

I visited with Father O'Connor a bit. He had been at the hospital almost as much as the rest of my family had been. We stopped by the chapel for a few minutes on our way back up to the ICU. I found the peace in there was as welcome as it had been when I was here the first time.

After I'd spent what I thought was an appropriate amount of time out of the room, I said goodbye to Father and rushed back to Bella's room. I didn't want to miss even the slightest movement, the slightest sound or blink of an eye. I felt so far away from her having not heard her voice for three days now. It left a gaping hole in my heart to know that she was in that dark place alone and I couldn't reach her…like I was letting her down someway.

Dr. Owens arrived at Bella's room shortly after I did. He was worried because she'd had a fever for the past few days and it was steadily climbing, despite the introduction of antibiotics. I anxiously watched his every movement as he checked out her ribs and the wounds beneath the bandages on her chest and head.

"Edward, I know you're distressed about the fact that she hasn't woken up yet, but despite the fever, everything seems to be holding steady. The bullet wound is healing and all her vital signs are good and getting stronger every day," he told me as he wrote some notes down on her chart.

"But she's so fucking still…all the time," I rasped breathlessly. I just wanted a sign…anything to indicate that she was still with us, still fighting her way out of the darkness.

He sighed and put his pen back in his jacket pocket. "I know it's hard to watch hour after hour, Edward, but keep talking to her, let the family keep visiting. Keep bringing the children by to see her. All of that helps, you know this," he told me.

"I just really fucking miss her," I said softly, picking her hand up and holding it against my chest.

Dr. Owens looked sadly at me and said, "I'm sorry I don't have more to tell you, Edward. We're just waiting on Bella now; it's all up to her."

He patted me on the back and walked out the door, leaving just me and my girl in the room…again.

"So beautiful, how about we find out what Winnie the Pooh is up to in the Hundred Acre Wood?" I asked and resumed my sentry post beside her bed and started to read.


Day 4~ Afternoon

"Edward," my dad said as he poked his head in the room. I looked up and Ben and Angela were standing beside him. I stood up and waved them inside. I knew they'd both been here off and on since Thursday night but things had been so jumbled that I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen them.

"We won't stay long, Edward," Angela said quietly as she walked toward Bella and stood on the opposite side of the bed from where I stood.

She looked at Bella so sadly and I said quietly, "It's okay Ang. You can talk to her. It's good for her to hear your voice," I encouraged and motioned for her to come on my side where she could sit in the chair for a few minutes.

I needed to stand anyway after sitting for such a long time. After Angela sat down, Ben motioned me toward the windows.

"Stupid fucking question, but are you doing okay?" he asked me.

I snorted and rolled my eyes, because, yes it was a really stupid fucking question, but I understood where he was coming from. There was so little to say right now, we were all just waiting.

Now that Bella had made it through the most critical time, without any further complications from the chest injury and surgery, it was up to her and her body to decide when she wanted to wake up. The swelling was still there, and Dr. Owens was still very concerned about it. The longer she stayed in the coma, the more worried he started to become.

"She just needs to wake up, Ben. That's all. Whatever else comes from that, whatever obstacles there might be, or side effects…none of that matters to me as long as she wakes up," I told him as my eyes started to fill with tears I was sure I had already used up.

"Anything at all?" he questioned and then hissed when he heard Angela begin to cry softly as she held Bella's tiny hand in her own.

I closed my eyes, wishing I could block out the sounds at the same time. I was so fucking tired of hearing people cry, myself included, but it couldn't be helped. I ran my hands through my hair and then looked at my friend and shook my head sadly, "No. Nothing." Sighing I turned to look out the windows, the sight of Angela shaking too much to bear. "I'm so scared, Ben," I told him honestly.

"We all are, Edward, but I know she'll be okay. Bella is fighter and she has lots to fight for," he told me then went and helped Angela out of her chair.

Angela bent down and kissed Bella's cheek and then kissed me before she walked quickly out of the room without looking back at either of us. I looked at Ben who shrugged his shoulders and said quietly, "Ang feels very much to blame for this, Edward. With as close as she worked with Jane over the past five years, it's hard for her to believe she never noticed…anything off about her. Until Ang knows Bella will be okay, she's going to blame herself," he said mournfully.

"Ben, no," I said as my breath hitched in my throat. "This isn't Angela's fault. I blame no one but that psychotic piece of shit, Jane. Please tell her that for me…for both of us. I know Bella would never blame Angela at all for any of this," I told him honestly.

"I'll try, Edward. They've been friends as long as you and I have, maybe even longer. Until she knows Bella will make a full recovery, nothing either of us says or does will make a difference," he said and started to walk out before he rushed back and hugged me firmly.

"I love ya man, please let me know if you need anything at all, okay?" he asked and after patting me on the back rushed after his girl.

I turned to mine and said softly, "Baby, you need to hurry and wake up. People are falling apart without you. We all need you so much," I whispered and kissed her forehead and sat down and assumed my waiting position…her tiny hand in mine while I watched over her, hoping for even the smallest twitch or movement that would give me hope that my Bella was still trying to find her way out and back to all of us who loved her so damn much.

Later in the day Emmett quietly walked in and told me that Alec and Riley were in the waiting room and needed to speak with me.

"Damn it, Emmett, can't this wait?" I hissed. I had a hard enough time leaving Bella when I was going with Maddie and Masen to the cafeteria, I sure as hell didn't want to leave to talk about her.

"Edward, man, I know you don't want to do this now, but the sooner you talk to them, the sooner this shit can get put in the past where it fucking belongs. Riley assured me it won't take long, thirty minutes tops," Emmett assured me and I nodded my head, just wanting to get this done.

I followed Emmett to the waiting room where I filled them both in on Bella's current condition, prognosis, and what the extended outlook was. "Basically," I sighed, "we are just waiting on Bella to wake up before the doctors can assess if there is any long term, permanent damage."

"I am so sorry, Edward," Alec replied sorrowfully and I nodded in acknowledgment of the sentiment.

"Let's get this done so I can get back in there," I said sharply and then proceeded to give my statement. I tried not to think of the words as I spoke them, wanting only to be done and away from them and back with Bella.

I finished, struggling to keep from lashing out at them for making me relive the fucking nightmare again. It was bad enough I spent hours upon hours with those images plastered to my eyelids; I didn't need to speak the words too.

"Thank you, Edward," Riley said when I stood up to leave. "We'll be in touch and let you know where things stand as soon as we know," he said and I held my hand out to him.

"Thank you both for all you tried to do for Bella and me," I said and then strode back to my love's side…where I belonged.


Day 5- Night time

"Good evening, Dr. Cullen," Vanessa, the night nurse Bella had had for the past five nights said politely as she walked into Bella's room to check her blood pressure…again.

As she went about her work, I took the opportunity to stand up and stretch, walking over to the windows and looked out. I couldn't even remember the last time I'd been outside, breathing fresh air. During my residency I could remember going a few days without leaving the hospital but never more than three, four max. I'd been here for five days and though every single member of my family had encouraged me to go home, and at least take a nap and a shower, I refused to leave. I did go to the chapel a few times a day and I did walk to the cafeteria when the kids were here to at least eat with them, but that was it.

I heard Vanessa flip through Bella's chart and write down her current blood pressure and temperature…which had thankfully begun to drop. Being a doctor, I was well aware of the dangers of Bella's fever remaining that high for that long, but it seemed like that danger was over. Hopefully the infection would not come back…one less thing to worry about.

"Have you noticed any movement this evening, Dr. Cullen?" the nurse asked quietly as she placed the chart back on the end of the bed.

I looked away from the window and then at my beautiful girl lying in the bed. "Not in the last few hours. Her fingers twitched earlier, before dinner, but that was it," I said sadly.

I needed her to wake up. I needed to look in her eyes and hear her soft voice.

I needed her.

Vanessa picked up the chart to take back out to the desk and quietly said, "Just keep doing what you've been doing, Dr. Cullen," she said as she looked to the bed where Bella's well worn and much loved copy of Winnie the Pooh resided. I had just finished reading her a chapter before the nurse had come in. "She has much to come back for in you, your children, and the rest of your family. You'll see," Vanessa said and then left us alone.

I knew my family was out in the waiting room, there was always someone there. I could have stepped out to see them, but I couldn't leave Bella. If I was honest, I'll admit I didn't want to either. It was, in a way, much easier to stay in here with Bella, just the two of us, then to be around the rest of the family. I didn't have to worry about seeing Seth or Jasper crying in the corner, I didn't have to watch my mom and dad hang on to each other without moving, I didn't have to watch Rose and Emmett sit silently waiting. I could just…be with Bella.

"Oh my sweet girl," I sighed as I sat down in my place beside her bed. "I miss you," I said softly as I bent forward and brushed her hair off her face.

I picked up the book again and flipped to the passage that I had been about to read before the nurse came in. Picking up Bella's hand in mine and rubbing my thumb back and forth across her knuckles, I began to read:

If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together…there is something you

must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you

seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if

we're apart…I'll always be with you.

I read for a few more minutes before the words started running together and I couldn't make them out any longer. I set the book down on the bed and scooted my chair forward and rested my head on the edge of the bed and stared at Bella. She was so fucking still and I just wanted her to do…something, anything. Every minute, every hour that went by while she just laid there was becoming excruciating.

"Baby, please," I begged her. "You have to come back to me now. I need you, the kids need you. We all miss you so fucking much Bella," I whispered as I lowered the rail on the side of bed and moved the chair even closer so that I could lay my head down beside hers.

"I'm so scared angel. I can't do this without you, I can't. It's selfish as hell to say, I know it is, but it's the fucking truth. I need you with me Bella. We just got you, you can't leave us yet," I said as the tears came…again. "We promised each other together, forever. Where you go, I go…and I can't go where you are baby. So you need to come back to me, please," I pleaded with her and stood up and pressed my lips over hers.

"I'll wait as long as I have to for you my love, but hurry back," I promised.

I would too, I'd wait fucking forever. I just hoped and prayed she wouldn't make me wait that long.

I sat back down in the chair and covered Bella up. Her hand was on the bed beside her and I laid mine over top of hers and began to tell her, again, all about the things we needed to fill in the baby book.


Day 7~ Very early morning, around 2:30 A.M.

"Em, I need a favor," I told my brother without waiting for him to answer. "I need you to go to the loft and look in my dresser, top drawer on the left. Bring me what's in there when you bring the kids later this morning. Please don't say anything to anyone," I told him quietly as I heard him walking toward the elevators to go home and bring me what I asked.

I was tired of waiting…tired of waiting for Bella to wake up. Tired of waiting to begin our lives together. Tired of waiting for the perfect time to do something I should have done a long fucking time ago.

"I'm so sorry my love," I whispered as I sat gingerly on the side of Bella's bed and cupped the side of her cheek. "I'm not losing faith, I promise you. But it's so hard when you're so far away from me. I can see you and touch you, but until I can look into those gorgeous brown eyes that always tell me so much and hear your sweet voice, nothing feels right. I'm trying to stay strong, but it's so fucking hard baby. I need you, so damn much," I said and shifted so I could sit in the chair beside her head.

I bent my head forward and began to sing Jack Johnson's Angel softly:

I've got an angel

She doesn't wear any wings

She wears a heart that can melt my own

She gives me everything I could wish for

She gives me kisses on the lips just for coming home

She could make angels

I've seen it with my own eyes

You gotta be careful when you've got good love

Cause the angels will just keep on multiplying

But you're so busy changing the world

Just one smile can change all of mine

Oh oh oh oh oh ohhh

We share the same soul

Oh oh oh oh oh ohhh

Oh oh oh oh oh ohhh

Umm umm umm uhhhhhhmm

"Come back to me baby," I whispered in her ear as I wiped my tears on the blanket that covered her. "I know you're tired of being in the dark all alone Bella. If you come back to me, I fucking promise you won't have to be alone anymore. Never again. Keep fighting my brave girl, please?" I begged for the umpteenth time since this never ending nightmare began.

"It's been seven days Isabella Marie and it's time for you to wake up," I told her, watching for even the tiniest sign she could hear me.


I sat down in my chair, the one that would have a permanent indention from my ass I'd sat in it for so long, and resumed my position again.

"Dear God, please," I prayed silently as I laid my head down on the bed beside her. "I need her to come back to me. Please help her find her way," I breathed and began to sing to her again.


Day 7~ Later in the morning…around 7:30 A.M.

A knock on the door jerked me from my awkward position and I hissed when I tried to stand up and my legs didn't cooperate fast enough.

"Jesus Edward," Em said as he walked in the room, Maddie and Masen following close behind.

"Shut it. Did you get what I asked?" I demanded quickly.

He nodded and discreetly handed me the box and thankfully didn't say a word, not even a raised eyebrow.

The kids and I visited for a bit and they talked to Bella, and then my mother took my place so that we could go have breakfast before they had to go to school. I decided, after some back and forth with myself, to send the kids to school once we'd passed the most critical time for Bella. Now that the risk of infection had lessened significantly and the chest wound and ribs were healing well, if slowly, we were basically just waiting on Bella to wake up.

All day long I kept touching my pocket, anxious for the last visitors to leave for the evening…which was always Emmett and Rose. They never went far either or for very long. I finally convinced the rest of the family, my parents included, to at least sleep at home. Em and Rose refused, but I'd finally managed tonight to get them to agree to go home and get a decent night's sleep. A week of sleeping on a waiting room couch wasn't good for anyone. I appreciated their tenacity and the support more than they would ever know, but they needed to take care of themselves too.

I paced the room, waiting for the last check of the evening so that I knew I wouldn't get interrupted. Vanessa entered shortly after and made quick work of her duties and left with a small wave and shut the door softly behind her.

Fuck but I was nervous, though for the life of me I couldn't figure out why.

I turned off the overhead light and kept only the small bedside lamp on. I turned on Bella's iPod that we had attached to the portable speakers and took my usual seat on her left side and picked up her hand, kissing the back of it.

The Goo Goo Doll's Iris was playing softly in the background and I let the opening lyrics settle over me:

And I'd give up forever to touch you
Cause I know that you feel me somehow
You're the closest to heaven that I'll ever be
And I don't want to go home right now

And all I can taste is this moment
And all I can breathe is your life
Cause sooner or later it's over
I just don't want to miss you tonight

"Isabella Marie Swan," I began as the tears I'd been holding in all damn day finally found their outlet and flowed down my face unchecked. "This is most assuredly not the way I envisioned doing this but I'm tired of waiting for the right time. Time is something, that up until a week ago, I'd taken for granted…thinking that we had as much of it as we wanted or needed. If there is anything I've learned over the past week it's that waiting does nothing but prolong the inevitable. I was ready to do this, I'm almost positive the very first moment I saw you walking in the park. You took my breath away that day, just as you've done everyday since and if I have my way, you'll do everyday for the rest of forever. I dreamed of you, waited for you…even when I had no idea you were anything but an ideal. The instant you smiled at me, my heart knew who you were, even if I did not. You have always been where my path was supposed to take me my most precious Isabella and I cannot wait any longer before promising that from this day forward our paths will be as one. Where one goes, the other will walk side by side," I choked out and then reached into my pocket and pulled out the box that had resided in my dresser, hidden beneath my socks. I pulled the ring out of the box and held her hand in mine, kissing her finger before sliding the ring on. "I will ask you again my love when you can answer, but Isabella Marie Swan, I will never love another for as long as I live. Will you please make me the happiest man on Earth and say you'll be mine for the rest of all time?"

I fell to my knees beside Bella's bed and I held onto her hand and cried as I wished, more than anything, she would wake up so that I could hear her answer. I wanted to crawl in bed and lay beside her; my arms ached to hold her. It had been far too long and my body craved to be close to her. Climbing back up into the dreaded chair I laid my head by her stomach and draped my left arm across her body while I held her left hand in my right one.

Closing my eyes, but not letting her go, I prayed, "Bella, please come back to me."

I felt a feather light touch on my cheek, it was so light I was sure I imagined it but when I opened my eyes and picked my head up I was met with the most glorious sight I could have ever imagined.

"I'm here, Edward," my love said in a voice that was the sweetest sound I'd ever heard.


  1. Wow! Erin, I know you said you were having a hard time writing this chapter. I can't even THINK of how true that was now that I have read it.


    Our poor man was absolutely falling apart. Not that it was unexpected, but the chapel scene just tore my heart out. He is wallowing so much in guilt, but I hope eventually he will come to realize that there was nothing he could have done to stop this from happening.

    Rose and Emmett:

    That was a beautiful story that Rose told Edward and it just went to show the strength of our Bella. Emmett having to watch Edward completely fall apart for the second time was heartbreaking. His admission of how much he looks up to Edward and then to see him at his most low point, and not knowing what to do to help was ... just horrible.

    Our Little Masen:

    I think out of everyone, he brought the tears most of all. He's so angry that his Mommy is hurt and he, of course, wanted to protect her. How can anyone expect an eight-year-old to understand just how bad this is and how he couldn't do anything to help her, even when with all of his heart he wanted to. She is so very important to the twins, but Masen....Masen has worshiped her from the very beginning and he must be terrified she is going to be taken away from him. Just as he found his Mommy. I think Edward dealt with him in the best way possible, really what more could he do. The anger has to come out of our little man.


    I think Maddie doesn't show her emotions the way that Masen does, she has always been the quieter of the two. I do believe this is hurting her just as much as it's hurting Masen, she's just internalizing it instead of lashing out as Masen has done. Just love our sweet Princess.

    It was rough seeing the rest of the family's reaction to seeing Bella. They just all love her so very much. In a previous chapter, Esme said that Bella was the heart of the family. They revolved around the love and kindness she exudes. That was never more apparent than now.

    Back to Edward and his vigil:

    Everything he did while she was "in the dark" I'm sure reached to her. He loves her so completely and really he never would have survived without her. Seven days...... as Emmett said, it was a miracle that he was still standing. I loved that he sang to her and read to her and hardly left her side. Again, this is not surprising in the least; she is his life and his future.

    His proposal was perfect and I'm sure what reached her the most. His words were so powerful and passionate. Everything he said about what they had both been through in order to get them to where they are today, TOGETHER, was spot on. So beautifully written and the emotions were palpable through the words.

    Erin, I'm so proud of you getting through writing this chapter. I think you embraced the anguish and used it to write one of the most beautiful chapters yet.

    As always my lovely friend, fantastic!

  2. Amazing, truly amazing writing~! You pull every emotion out of your reader there is...
    We feel every pain, every tear, every sigh, all of it... the anger, pain of separation, blame.... guilt... we FEEL their pain. Your writing EVOKES those emotions from us just a though we were there in the hospital with them... it's like the never ending story, ya know, we have gone through every bit of this with them, just as though you wrote US in as one of the characters that love Bella, Edward, Maddie, Masen and the rest of the family. We are family by extension and you have made us LOVE them and take them to our heart.... Kudos my dear Erin, YOU ROCK THE ROOF... (and yes, I Have been crying again)