Truly, I was not thirsty, but I decided to hunt again that night. A small ounce of prevention, inadequate though I knew it to be.
Carlisle came with me; we hadn't been alone together since I'd returned from Denali. As we ran through the black forest, I heard him thinking about that hasty goodbye last week.
In his memory, I saw the way my features had been twisted in fierce despair. I felt his surprise and sudden worry.
"I have to go, Carlisle. I have to go now."
"Nothing. Yet. But it will, if I stay."
He'd reached for my arm. I felt how it had hurt him when I'd cringed away from his hand.
"I don't understand."
"Have you ever...has there ever been a time..."
I watched myself take a deep breath, saw the wild light in my eyes through the filter of his deep concern.
"Has any one person ever smelled better to you than the rest of them? Much better?"
When I'd known that he understood, my face had fallen with shame. He'd reached out to touch me, ignoring it when I'd recoiled again, and left his hand on my shoulder.
"Do what you must to resist, son. I will miss you. Here, take my car. It's faster."
He was wondering now if he'd done the right thing then, sending me away. Wondering if he hadn't hurt me with his lack of trust.
"No," I whispered as I ran. "That was what I needed. I might so easily have betrayed that trust, if you'd told me to stay."
"I'm sorry you're suffering, Edward. But you should do what you can to keep the Swan child alive. Even if it means that you must leave us again."
"I know, I know."
"Why did you come back? You know how happy I am to have you here, but if this is too difficult..."
"I didn't like feeling a coward," I admitted.
We'd slowed - we were barely jogging through the darkness now.
"Better that than to put her in danger. She'll be gone in a year or two." "You're right, I know that." Contrarily, though, his words only made me more anxious to stay. The girl would be gone in a year or two...
Carlisle stopped running and I stopped with him; he turned to examine my expression.
But you're not going to run, are you?
I hung my head.
Is it pride, Edward? There's no shame in -
"No, it isn't pride that keeps me here. Not now."
Nowhere to go?
I laughed shortly. "No. That wouldn't stop me, if I could make myself leave." "We'll come with you, of course, if that's what you need. You only have to ask. You've moved on without complaint for the rest of them. They won't begrudge you this."
I raised one eyebrow.
He laughed. "Yes, Rosalie might, but she owes you. Anyway, it's much better for us to leave now, no damage done, than for us to leave later, after a life has been ended." All humor was gone by the end.
I flinched at his words.
"Yes," I agreed. My voice sounded hoarse.
But you're not leaving?
I sighed. "I should."
"What holds you here, Edward? I'm failing to see..."
"I don't know if I can explain." Even to myself, it made no sense.
He measured my expression for a long moment.
No, I do not see. But I will respect your privacy, if you prefer.
"Thank you. It's generous of you, seeing as how I give privacy to no one." With one exception. And I was doing what I could to deprive her of that, wasn't I? We all have our quirks. He laughed again. Shall we?
He'd just caught the scent of a small herd of deer. It was hard to rally much enthusiasm for what was, even under the best of circumstances, a less than mouthwatering aroma. Right now, with the memory of the girl's blood fresh in my mind, the smell actually turned my stomach.
I sighed. "Let's," I agreed, though I knew that forcing more blood down my throat would help so little.
We both shifted into a hunting crouch and let the unappealing scent pull us silently forward.
It was colder when we returned home. The melted snow had refrozen; it was as if a thin sheet of glass covered everything - each pine needle, each fern frond, each blade of grass was iced over.
While Carlisle went to dress for his early shift at the hospital, I stayed by the river, waiting for the sun to rise. I felt almost swollen from the amount of blood I'd consumed, but I knew the lack of actual thirst would mean little when I sat beside the girl again.
Cool and motionless as the stone I sat on, I stared at the dark water running beside the icy bank, stared right through it.
Carlisle was right. I should leave Forks. They could spread some story to explain my absence. Boarding school in Europe. Visiting distant relatives. Teenage runaway. The story didn't matter. No one would question too intensely.
It was just a year or two, and then the girl would disappear. She would go on with her life - she would have a life to go on with. She'd go to college somewhere, get older, start a career, perhaps marry someone. I could picture that - I could see the girl dressed all in white and walking at a measured pace, her arm through her father's.
It was odd, the pain that image caused me. I couldn't understand it. Was I jealous, because she had a future that I could never have? That made no sense. Every one of the humans around me had that same potential ahead of them - a life - and I rarely stopped to envy them.
I should leave her to her future. Stop risking her life. That was the right thing to do. Carlisle always chose the right way. I should listen to him now. The sun rose behind the clouds, and the faint light glistened off all the frozen glass.
One more day, I decided. I would see her one more time. I could handle that.
Perhaps I would mention my pending disappearance, set the story up.
This was going to be difficult; I could feel that in the heavy reluctance that was already making me think of excuses to stay - to extend the deadline to two days, three, four... But I would do the right thing. I knew I could trust Carlisle's advice. And I also knew that I was too conflicted to make the right decision alone.
Much too conflicted. How much of this reluctance came from my obsessive curiosity, and how much came from my unsatisfied appetite?
I went inside to change into fresh clothes for school. Alice was waiting for me, sitting on the top step at the edge of the third floor.
You're leaving again, she accused me.
I sighed and nodded.
I can't see where you're going this time.
"I don't know where I'm going yet," I whispered.
I want you to stay.
I shook my head.
Maybe Jazz and I could come with you?
"They'll need you all the more, if I'm not here to watch out for them. And think of Esme. Would you take half her family away in one blow?"
You're going to make her so sad.
"I know. That's why you have to stay."
That's not the same as having you here, and you know it.
"Yes. But I have to do what's right." There are many right ways, and many wrong ways, though, aren't there?
For a brief moment she was swept away into one of her strange visions; I watched along with her as the indistinct images flickered and whirled. I saw myself mixed in with strange shadows that I couldn't make out - hazy, imprecise forms. And then, suddenly, my skin was glittering in the bright sunlight of a small open meadow. This was a place I knew. There was a figure in the meadow with me, but, again, it was indistinct, not there enough to recognize. The images shivered and disappeared as a million tiny choices rearranged the future again.
"I didn't catch much of that," I told her when the vision went dark.
Me either. Your future is shifting around so much I can't keep up with any of it. I think, though...
She stopped, and she flipped through a vast collection of other recent visions for me. They were all the same - blurry and vague.
"I think something is changing, though," she said out loud. "Your life seems to be at a crossroads."
I laughed grimly. "You do realize that you sound like a bogus gypsy at a carnival now, right?"
She stuck her tiny tongue out at me.
"Today is all right, though, isn't it?" I asked, my voice abruptly apprehensive. "I don't see you killing anyone today," she assured me.
"Go get dressed. I won't say anything - I'll let you tell the others when you're ready."
She stood and darted back down the stairs, her shoulders hunched slightly. Miss you. Really.
Yes, I would really miss her, too.
It was a quiet ride to school. Jasper could tell that Alice was upset about something, but he knew that if she wanted to talk about it she would have done so already. Emmett and Rosalie were oblivious, having another of their moments, gazing into each others' eyes with wonder - it was rather disgusting to watch from the outside. We were all quite aware how desperately in love they were. Or maybe I was just being bitter because I was the only one alone. Some days it was harder than others to live with three sets of perfectly matched lovers. This was one of them.
Maybe they would all be happier without me hanging around, ill-tempered and belligerent as the old man I should be by now.
Of course, the first thing I did when we reached the school was to look for the girl. Just preparing myself again.
It was embarrassing how my world suddenly seemed to be empty of everything but her - my whole existence centered around the girl, rather than around myself anymore.
It was easy enough to understand, though, really; after eighty years of the same thing every day and every night, any change became a point of absorption.
She had not yet arrived, but could I hear the thunderous chugging of her truck's engine in the distance. I leaned against the side of the car to wait. Alice stayed with me, while the others went straight to class. They were bored with my fixation - it was incomprehensible to them how any human could hold my interest for so long, no matter how delicious she smelled.
The girl drove slowly into view, her eyes intent on the road and her hands tight on the wheel. She seemed anxious about something. It took me a second to figure out what that something was, to realize that every human wore the same expression today. Ah, the road was slick with ice, and they were all trying to drive more carefully. I could see she was taking the added risk seriously.
That seemed in line with what little I had learned of her character. I added this to my small list: she was a serious person, a responsible person.
She parked not too far from me, but she hadn't noticed me standing here yet, staring at her. I wondered what she would do when she did? Blush and walk away?
That was my first guess. But maybe she would stare back. Maybe she would come to talk to me.
I took a deep breath, filling my lungs hopefully, just in case.
She got out of the truck with care, testing the slick ground before she put her weight on it. She didn't look up, and that frustrated me. Maybe I would go talk to her... No, that would be wrong.
Instead of turning toward the school, she made her way to the rear of her truck, clinging to the side of the truck bed in a droll way, not trusting her footing. It made me smile, and I felt Alice's eyes on my face. I didn't listen to whatever this made her think - I was having too much fun watching the girl check her snow chains. She actually looked in some danger of falling, the way her feet were sliding around. No one else was having trouble - had she parked in the worst of the ice?
She paused there, staring down with a strange expression on her face. It was...tender? As if something about the tire was making her...emotional? Again, the curiosity ached like a thirst. It was as if I had to know what she was thinking - as if nothing else mattered.
I would go talk to her. She looked like she could use a hand anyway, at least until she was off the slick pavement. Of course, I couldn't offer her that, could I? I hesitated, torn. As adverse as she seemed to be to snow, she would hardly welcome the touch of my cold white hand. I should have worn gloves -
"NO!" Alice gasped aloud.
Instantly, I scanned her thoughts, guessing at first that I had made a poor choice and she saw me doing something inexcusable. But it had nothing to do with me at all. Tyler Crowley had chosen to take the turn into the parking lot at an injudicious speed. This choice would send him skidding across a patch of ice...
The vision came just half a second before the reality. Tyler's van rounded the corner as I was still watching the conclusion that had pulled the horrified gasp through Alice's lips.
No, this vision had nothing to do with me, and yet it had everything to do with me, because Tyler's van - the tires right now hitting the ice at the worst possible angle - was going to spin across the lot and crush the girl who had become the uninvited focal point of my world.
Even without Alice's foresight it would have been simple enough to read the trajectory of the vehicle, flying out of Tyler's control.
The girl, standing in the exactly wrong place at the back of her truck, looked up, bewildered by the sound of the screeching tires. She looked straight into my horrorstruck eyes, and then turned to watch her approaching death.
Not her! The words shouted in my head as if they belonged to someone else.
Still locked into Alice's thoughts, I saw the vision suddenly shift, but I had no time to see what the outcome would be.
I launched myself across the lot, throwing myself between the skidding van and the frozen girl. I moved so fast that everything was a streaky blur except for the object of my focus. She didn't see me - no human eyes could have followed my flight - still staring at the hulking shape that was about to grind her body into the metal frame of her truck.
I caught her around the waist, moving with too much urgency to be as gentle as she would need me to be. In the hundredth of a second between the time that I yanked her slight form out of the path of death and the time that I crashed into to the ground with her in my arms, I was vividly aware of her fragile, breakable body.
When I heard her head crack against the ice, it felt like I had turned to ice, too.
But I didn't even have a full second to ascertain her condition. I heard the van behind us, grating and squealing as it twisted around the sturdy iron body of the girl's truck. It was changing course, arcing, coming for her again - like she was a magnet, pulling it toward us.
A word I'd never said before in the presence of a lady slid between my clenched teeth.
I had already done too much. As I'd nearly flown through the air to push her out of the way, I'd been fully aware of the mistake I was making. Knowing that it was a mistake did not stop me, but I was not oblivious to the risk I was taking - taking, not just for myself, but for my entire family.
And this certainly wasn't going to help, but there was no way I was going to allow the van to succeed in its second attempt to take her life.
I dropped her and threw my hands out, catching the van before it could touch the girl. The force of it hurled me back into the car parked beside her truck, and I could feel its frame buckle behind my shoulders. The van shuddered and shivered against the unyielding obstacle of my arms, and then swayed, balancing unstably on the two far tires. If I moved my hands, the back tire of the van was going fall onto her legs.
Oh, for the love of all that was holy, would the catastrophes never end? Was there anything else that could go wrong? I could hardly sit here, holding the van in the air, and wait for rescue. Nor could I throw the van away - there was the driver to consider, his thoughts incoherent with panic.
With an internal groan, I shoved the van so that it rocked away from us for an instant. As it fell back toward me, I caught it under the frame with my right hand while I wrapped my left arm around the girl's waist again and drug her out from under the van, pulling her tight up against my side. Her body moved limply as I swung her around so that her legs would be in the clear - was she conscious? How much damage had I done to her in my impromptu rescue attempt?
I let the van drop, now that it could not hurt her. It crashed to the pavement, all the windows shattering in unison.
I knew that I was in the middle of a crisis. How much had she seen? Had any other witnesses watched me materialize at her side and then juggle the van while I tried to keep her out from under it? These questions should be my biggest concern.
But I was too anxious to really care about the threat of exposure as much as I should. Too panic-stricken that I might have injured her myself in my effort to protect her. Too frightened to have her this close to me, knowing what I would smell if I allowed myself to inhale. Too aware of the heat of her soft body, pressed against mine - even through the double obstacle of our jackets, I could feel that heat...
The first fear was the greatest fear. As the screaming of the witnesses erupted around us, I leaned down to examine her face, to see if she was conscious - hoping fiercely that she was not bleeding anywhere.
Her eyes were open, staring in shock.
"Bella?" I asked urgently. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine." She said the words automatically in a dazed voice.
Relief, so exquisite it was nearly pain, washed through me at the sound of her voice. I sucked in a breath through my teeth, and did not mind the accompanying burn in my throat. I almost welcomed it.
She struggled to sit up, but I was not ready to release her. It felt somehow...safer? Better, at least, having her tucked into my side.
"Be careful," I warned her. "I think you hit your head pretty hard."
There had been no smell of fresh blood - a mercy, that - but this did not rule out internal damage. I was abruptly anxious to get her to Carlisle and a full compliment of radiology equipment.
"Ow," she said, her tone comically shocked as she realized I was right about her head.
"That's what I thought." Relief made it funny to me, made me almost giddy. "How in the..." Her voice trailed off, and her eyelids fluttered. "How did you get over here so fast?"
The relief turned sour, the humor vanished. She had noticed too much.
Now that it appeared that the girl was in decent shape, the anxiety for my family became severe.
"I was standing right next to you, Bella." I knew from experience that if I was very confident as I lied, it made any questioner less sure of the truth.
She struggled to move again, and this time I allowed it. I needed to breathe so that I could play my role correctly. I needed space from her warm-blooded heat so that it would not combine with her scent to overwhelm me. I slid away from her, as far as was possible in the small space between the wrecked vehicles.
She stared up at me, and I stared back. To look away first was a mistake only an incompetent liar would make, and I was not an incompetent liar. My expression was smooth, benign... It seemed to confuse her. That was good.
The accident scene was surrounded now. Mostly students, children, peering and pushing through the cracks to see if any mangled bodies were visible. There was a babble of shouting and a gush of shocked thought. I scanned the thoughts once to make sure there were no suspicions yet, and then tuned it out and concentrated only on the girl. She was distracted by the bedlam. She glanced around, her expression still stunned, and tried to get to her feet.
I put my hand lightly on her shoulder to hold her down.
"Just stay put for now." She seemed alright, but should she really be moving her neck? Again, I wished for Carlisle. My years of theoretical medical study were no match for his centuries of hands-on medical practice.
"But it's cold," she objected.
She had almost been crushed to death two distinct times and crippled one more, and it was the cold that worried her. A chuckle slid through my teeth before I could remember that the situation was not funny.
Bella blinked, and then her eyes focused on my face. "You were over there."
That sobered me again.
She glanced toward the south, though there was nothing to see now but the crumpled side of the van. "You were by your car."
"No, I wasn't."
"I saw you," she insisted; her voice was childlike when she was being stubborn. Her chin jutted out.
"Bella, I was standing with you, and I pulled you out of the way."
I stared deeply into her wide eyes, trying to will her into accepting my version - the only rational version on the table.
Her jaw set. "No."
I tried to stay calm, to not panic. If only I could keep her quiet for a few moments, to give me a chance to destroy the evidence....and undermine her story by disclosing her head injury.
Shouldn't it be easy to keep this silent, secretive girl quiet? If only she would trust me, just for a few moments...
"Please, Bella," I said, and my voice was too intense, because I suddenly wanted her to trust me. Wanted it badly, and not just in regards to this accident. A stupid desire. What sense would it make for her to trust me?
"Why?" she asked, still defensive.
"Trust me," I pleaded.
"Will you promise to explain everything to me later?"
It made me angry to have to lie to her again, when I so much wished that I could somehow deserve her trust. So, when I answered her, it was a retort.
"Fine," she echoed in the same tone.
While the rescue attempt began around us - adults arriving, authorities called, sirens in the distance - I tried to ignore the girl and get my priorities in the right order. I searched through every mind in the lot, the witnesses and the latecomers both, but I could find nothing dangerous. Many were surprised to see me here beside Bella, but all concluded - as there was no other possible conclusion - that they had just not noticed me standing by the girl before the accident.
She was the only one who didn't accept the easy explanation, but she would be considered the least reliable witness. She had been frightened, traumatized, not to mention sustaining the blow to the head. Possibly in shock. It would be acceptable for her story to be confused, wouldn't it? No one would give it much credence above so many other spectators...
I winced when I caught the thoughts of Rosalie, Jasper and Emmett, just arriving on the scene. There would be hell to pay for this tonight.
I wanted to iron out the indention my shoulders had made against the tan car, but the girl was too close. I'd have to wait till she was distracted.
It was frustrating to wait - so many eyes on me - as the humans struggled with the van, trying to pull it away from us. I might have helped them, just to speed the process, but I was already in enough trouble and the girl had sharp eyes. Finally, they were able to shift it far enough away for the EMTs to get to us with their stretchers. A familiar, grizzled face appraised me.
"Hey, Edward," Brett Warner said. He was also a registered nurse, and I knew him well from the hospital. It was a stroke of luck - the only luck today - that he was the first through to us. In his thoughts, he was noting that I looked alert and calm. "You okay, kid?"
"Perfect, Brett. Nothing touched me. But I'm afraid Bella here might have a concussion. She really hit her head when I yanked her out of the way..."
Brett turned his attention to the girl, who shot me a fierce look of betrayal. Oh, that was right. She was the quiet martyr - she'd prefer to suffer in silence. She did not contradict my story immediately, though, and this made me feel easier.
The next EMT tried to insist that I allow myself to be treated, but it wasn't too difficult to dissuade him. I promised I would let my father examine me, and he let it go. With most humans, speaking with cool assurance was all that was needed. Most humans, just not the girl, of course. Did she fit into any of the normal patterns? As they put a neck brace on her - and her face flushed scarlet with embarrassment - I used the moment of distraction to quietly rearrange the shape of the dent in the tan car with the back of my foot. Only my siblings noticed what I was doing, and I heard Emmett's mental promise to catch anything I missed.
Grateful for his help - and more grateful that Emmett, at least, had already forgiven my dangerous choice - I was more relaxed as I climbed into the front seat of the ambulance next to Brett.
The chief of police arrived before they had gotten Bella into the back of the ambulance.
Though Bella's father's thoughts were past words, the panic and concern emanating out of the man's mind drown out just about every other thought in the vicinity. Wordless anxiety and guilt, a great swell of them, washed out of him as he saw his only daughter on the gurney.
Washed out of him and through me, echoing and growing stronger. When Alice had warned me that killing Charlie Swan's daughter would kill him, too, she had not been exaggerating.
My head bowed with that guilt as I listened to his panicked voice.
"Bella!" he shouted.
"I'm completely fine, Char - Dad." She sighed. "There's nothing wrong with me."
Her assurance barely soothed his dread. He turned at once to the closest EMT and demanded more information.
I wasn't until I heard him speaking, forming perfectly coherent sentences despite his panic, that I realized that his anxiety and concern were not wordless. I just...could not hear the exact words.
Hmm. Charlie Swan was not as silent as his daughter, but I could see where she got it from. Interesting.
I'd never spent much time around the town's police chief. I'd always taken him for a man of slow thought - now I realized that I was the one who was slow. His thoughts were partially concealed, not absent. I could only make out the tenor, the tone of them...
I wanted to listen harder, to see if I could find in this new, lesser puzzle the key to the girl's secrets. But Bella was loaded into the back by then, and the ambulance was on its way.
It was hard to tear myself away from this possible solution to the mystery that had come to obsess me. But I had to think now - to look at what had been done today from every angle. I had to listen, to make sure that I had not put us all in so much danger that we would have to leave immediately. I had to concentrate.
There was nothing in the thoughts of the EMTs to worry me. As far as they could tell, there was nothing seriously wrong with the girl. And Bella was sticking to the story I'd provided, thus far.
The first priority, when we reached the hospital, was to see Carlisle. I hurried through the automatic doors, but I was unable to totally forgo watching after Bella; I kept an eye on her through the paramedics' thoughts.
It was easy to find my father's familiar mind. He was in his small office, all alone - the second stroke of luck in this luckless day.
He'd heard my approach, and he was alarmed as soon as he saw my face. He jumped to his feet, his face paling to bone white. He leaned forward across the neatly organized walnut desk.
Edward - you didn't -
"No, no, it's not that."
He took deep breath. Of course not. I'm sorry I entertained the thought. Your eyes, of course, I should have known... He noted my still-golden eyes with relief. "She's hurt, though, Carlisle, probably not seriously, but - "
"A stupid car accident. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But I couldn't just stand there - let it crush her - "
Start over, I don't understand. How were you involved?
"A van skidded across the ice," I whispered. I stared at the wall behind him while I spoke. Instead of a throng of framed diplomas, he had one simple oil painting - a favorite of his, an undiscovered Hassam. "She was in the way. Alice saw it coming, but there wasn't time to do anything but really run across the lot and shove her out of the way. No one noticed...except for her. I had to stop the van, too, but again, nobody saw that...besides her. I'm...I'm sorry Carlisle. I didn't mean to put us in danger." He circled the desk and put his hand on my shoulder.
You did the right thing. And it couldn't have been easy for you. I'm proud of you, Edward.
I could look him in the eye then. "She knows there's something...wrong with me."
"That doesn't matter. If we have to leave, we leave. What has she said?" I shook my head, a little frustrated. "Nothing yet."
"She agreed to my version of events - but she's expecting an explanation." He frowned, pondering this.
"She hit her head - well, I did that," I continued quickly. "I knocked her to the ground fairly hard. She seems fine, but... I don't think it will take much to discredit her account."
I felt like a cad just saying the words.
Carlisle heard the distaste in my voice. Perhaps that won't be necessary. Let's see what happens, shall we? It sounds like I have a patient to check on.
"Please," I said. "I'm so worried that I hurt her."
Carlisle's expression brightened. He smoothed his fair hair - just a few shades lighter than his golden eyes - and he laughed.
It's been an interesting day for you, hasn't it? In his mind, I could see the irony, and it was humorous, at least to him. Quite the reversal of roles. Somewhere during that short thoughtless second when I'd sprinted across the icy lot, I had transformed from killer to protector.
I laughed with him, remembering how sure I'd been that Bella would never need protecting from anything more than myself. There was an edge to my laugh because, van notwithstanding, that was still entirely true.
I waited alone in Carlisle's office - one of the longer hours I had ever lived - listening to the hospital full of thoughts.
Tyler Crowley, the van's driver, looked to be hurt worse than Bella, and the attention shifted to him while she waited her turn to be X-rayed. Carlisle kept in the background, trusting the PA's diagnosis that the girl was only slightly injured. This made me anxious, but I knew he was right. One glance at his face and she would be immediately reminded of me, of the fact that there was something not right about my family, and that might set her talking.
She certainly had a willing enough partner to converse with. Tyler was consumed with guilt over the fact that he had almost killed her, and he couldn't seem to shut up about it. I could see her expression through his eyes, and it was clear that she wished he would stop. How did he not see that?
There was a tense moment for me when Tyler asked her how she'd gotten out of the way.
I waited, not breathing, as she hesitated.
"Um..." he heard her say. Then she paused for so long that Tyler wondered if his question had confused her. Finally, she went on. "Edward pulled me out of the way." I exhaled. And then my breathing accelerated. I'd never heard her speak my name before. I like the way it sounded - even just hearing it through Tyler's thoughts. I wanted to hear it for myself...
"Edward Cullen," she said, when Tyler didn't realize who she meant. I found myself at the door, my hand on the knob. The desire to see her was growing stronger. I had to remind myself of the need for caution.
"He was standing next to me."
"Cullen?" Huh. That's weird. "I didn't see him." I could have sworn... "Wow, it was all so fast, I guess. Is he okay?"
"I think so. He's here somewhere, but they didn't make him use a stretcher." I saw the thoughtful look on her face, the suspicious tightening of her eyes, but these little changes in her expression were lost on Tyler.
She's pretty, he was thinking, almost in surprise. Even all messed up. Not my usual type, still... I should take her out. Make up for today...
I was out in the hall, then, halfway to the emergency room, without thinking for one second about what I was doing. Luckily, the nurse entered the room before I could - it was Bella's turn for X-rays. I leaned against the wall in a dark nook just around the corner, and tried to get a grip on myself while she was wheeled away.
It didn't matter that Tyler thought she was pretty. Anyone would notice that.
There was no reason for me to feel...how did I feel? Annoyed? Or was angry closer to the truth? That made no sense at all.
I stayed where I was for as long as I could, but impatience got the best of me and I took a back way around to the radiology room. She'd already been moved back to the ER, but I was able to take a peek at her x-rays while the nurse's back was turned. I felt calmer when I had. Her head was fine. I hadn't hurt her, not really.
Carlisle caught me there.
You look better, he commented.
I just looked straight ahead. We weren't alone, the halls full of orderlies and visitors.
Ah, yes. He stuck her x-rays to the lightboard, but I didn't need a second look. I see. She's absolutely fine. Well done, Edward.
The sound of my father's approval created a mixed reaction in me. I would have been pleased, except that I knew that he would not approve of what I was going to do now. At least, he would not approve if he knew my real motivations...
"I think I'm going to go talk to her - before she sees you," I murmured under my breath. "Act natural, like nothing happened. Smooth it over." All acceptable reasons. Carlisle nodded absently, still looking over the x-rays. "Good idea. Hmm." I looked to see what had his interest.
Look at all the healed contusions! How many times did her mother drop her? Carlisle laughed to himself at his joke.
"I'm beginning to think the girl just has really bad luck. Always in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Forks is certainly the wrong place for her, with you here.
Go ahead. Smooth things over. I'll join you momentarily.
I walked away quickly, feeling guilty. Perhaps I was too good a liar, if I could fool Carlisle.
When I got to the ER, Tyler was mumbling under his breath, still apologizing. The girl was trying to escape his remorse by pretending to sleep. Her eyes were closed, but her breathing was not even, and now and then her fingers would twitch impatiently. I stared at her face for a long moment. This was the last time I would see her. That fact triggered an acute aching in my chest. Was it because I hated to leave any puzzle unsolved? That did not seem like enough of an explanation.
Finally, I took a deep breath and moved into view.
When Tyler saw me, he started to speak, but I put one finger to my lips.
"Is she sleeping?" I murmured.
Bella's eyes snapped open and focused on my face. They widened momentarily, and then narrowed in anger or suspicion. I remembered that I had a role to play, so I smiled at her as if nothing unusual had happened this morning - besides a blow to her head and a bit of imagination run wild.
"Hey, Edward," Tyler said. "I'm really sorry - "
I raised one hand to halt his apology. "No blood, no foul," I said wryly. Without thinking, I smiled too widely at my private joke.
It was amazingly easy to ignore Tyler, lying no more than four feet from me, covered in fresh blood. I'd never understood how Carlisle was able to do that - ignore the blood of his patients in order to treat them. Wouldn't the constant temptation be so distracting, so dangerous...? But, now... I could see how, if you were focusing on something else hard enough, the temptation was be nothing at all.
Even fresh and exposed, Tyler's blood had nothing on Bella's.
I kept my distance from her, seating myself on the foot of Tyler's mattress.
"So, what's the verdict?" I asked her.
Her lower lip pushed out a little. "There's nothing wrong with me at all, but they won't let me go. How come you aren't strapped to a gurney like the rest of us?" Her impatience made me smile again.
I could hear Carlisle in the hall now.
"It's all about who you know," I said lightly. "But don't worry, I came to spring you."
I watched her reaction carefully as my father entered the room. Her eyes widened and her mouth actually fell open in surprise. I groaned internally. Yes, she'd certainly noticed the resemblance.
"So, Miss Swan, how are you feeling?" Carlisle asked. He had a wonderfully soothing beside manner that put most patients at ease within moments. I couldn't tell how it affected Bella.
"I'm fine," she said quietly.
Carlisle clipped her X-rays to the lightboard by the bed. "Your X-rays look good. Does your head hurt? Edward said you hit it pretty hard."
She sighed, and said, "I'm fine," again, but this time impatience leaked into her voice. Then she glowered once in my direction.
Carlisle stepped closer to her and ran his fingers gently over her scalp until he found the bump under her hair.
I was caught off guard by the wave of emotion that crashed over me.
I had seen Carlisle work with humans a thousand times. Years ago, I had even assisted him informally - though only in situations where blood was not involved. So it wasn't a new thing to me, to watch him interact with the girl as if he were as human as she was. I'd envied his control many times, but that was not the same as this emotion. I envied him more than his control. I ached for the difference between Carlisle and me - that he could touch her so gently, without fear, knowing he would never harm her... She winced, and I twitched in my seat. I had to concentrate for a moment to keep my relaxed posture.
"Tender?" Carlisle asked.
Her chin jerked up a fraction. "Not really," she said.
Another small piece of her character fell into place: she was brave. She didn't like to show weakness.
Possibly the most vulnerable creature I'd ever seen, and she didn't want to seem weak. A chuckle slid through my lips.
She shot another glare at me.
"Well," Carlisle said. "Your father is in the waiting room - you can go home with him now. But come back if you feel dizzy or have trouble with your eyesight at all." Her father was here? I swept through the thoughts in the crowded waiting room, but I couldn't pick his subtle mental voice out of the group before she was speaking again, her face anxious.
"Can't I go back to school?"
"Maybe you should take it easy today," Carlisle suggested.
Her eyes flickered back to me. "Does he get to go to school?"
Act normal, smooth things over...ignore the way it feels when she looks me in the eye...
"Someone has to spread the good news that we survived," I said.
"Actually," Carlisle corrected, "most of the school seems to be in the waiting room."
I anticipated her reaction this time - her aversion to attention. She didn't disappoint.
"Oh no," she moaned, and she put her hands over her face.
I liked that I'd finally guessed right. I was beginning to understand her... "Do you want to stay?" Carlisle asked.
"No, no!" she said quickly, swinging her legs over the side of the mattress and sliding down till her feet were on the floor. She stumbled forward, off-balance, into Carlisle's arms. He caught and steadied her.
Again, the envy flooded through me.
"I'm fine," she said before he could comment, faint pink in her cheeks.
Of course, that wouldn't bother Carlisle. He made sure she was balanced, and then dropped his hands.
"Take some Tylenol for the pain," he instructed.
"It doesn't hurt that bad."
Carlisle smiled as he signed her chart. "It sounds like you were extremely lucky." She turned her face slightly, to stare at me with hard eyes. "Lucky Edward happened to be standing next to me."
"Oh, well, yes," Carlisle agreed quickly, hearing the same thing in her voice that I heard. She hadn't written her suspicions off as imagination. Not yet.
All yours, Carlisle thought. Handle it as you think best.
"Thanks so much," I whispered, quick and quiet. Neither human heard me.
Carlisle's lips turned up a tiny bit at my sarcasm as he turned to Tyler. "I'm afraid that you'll have to stay with us just a little bit longer," he said as he began examining the slashes left by the shattered windshield.
Well, I'd made the mess, so it was only fair that I had to deal with it. Bella walked deliberately toward me, not stopping until she was uncomfortably close. I remembered how I had hoped, before all the mayhem, that she would approach me... This was like a mockery of that wish.
"Can I talk to you for a minute?" she hissed at me.
Her warm breath brushed my face and I had to stagger back a step. Her appeal had not abated one bit. Every time she was near me, it triggered all my worst, most urgent instincts. Venom flowed in my mouth and my body yearned to strike - to wrench her into my arms and crush her throat to my teeth.
My mind was stronger than my body, but only just.
"Your father is waiting for you," I reminded her, my jaw clenched tight.
She glanced toward Carlisle and Tyler. Tyler was paying us no attention at all, but Carlisle was monitoring my every breath.
"I'd like to speak to you alone, if you don't mind," she insisted in a low voice. I wanted to tell her that I did mind very much, but I knew I would have to do this eventually. I may as well get on with it.
I was full of so many conflicting emotions as I stalked out of the room, listening to her stumbling footsteps behind me, trying to keep up.
I had a show to put on now. I knew the role I would play - I had the character down: I would be the villain. I would lie and ridicule and be cruel.
It went against all my better impulses - the human impulses that I'd clung to through all these years. I'd never wanted to deserve trust more than in this moment, when I had to destroy all possibility of it.
It made it worse to know that this would be the last memory she would have of me. This was my farewell scene.
I turned on her.
"What do you want?" I asked coldly.
She cringed back slightly from my hostility. Her eyes turned bewildered, the expression that had haunted me...
"You owe me an explanation," she said in a small voice; her ivory face blanched. It was very hard to keep my voice harsh. "I saved your life - I don't owe you anything."
She flinched - it burned like acid to watch my words hurt her.
"You promised," she whispered.
"Bella, you hit your head, you don't know what you're talking about."
Her chin came up then. "There's nothing wrong with my head."
She was angry now, and that made it easier for me. I met her glare, making my face more unfriendly.
"What do you want from me, Bella?"
"I want to know the truth. I want to know why I'm lying for you."
What she wanted was only fair - it frustrated me to have to deny her.
"What do you think happened?" I nearly growled at her.
Her words poured out in a torrent. "All I know is that you weren't anywhere near me - Tyler didn't see you, either, so don't tell me I hit my head too hard. That van was going to crush us both - and it didn't, and your hands left dents in the side of it - and you left a dent in the other car, and you're not hurt at all - and the van should have smashed my legs, but you were holding it up..." Suddenly, she clenched her teeth together and her eyes were glistening with unshed tears.
I stared at her, my expression derisive, though what I really felt was awe; she had seen everything.
"You think I lifted a van off you?" I asked sarcastically.
She answered with one stiff nod.
My voice grew more mocking. "Nobody will believe that, you know."
She made an effort to control her anger. When she answered me, she spoke each word with slow deliberation. "I'm not going to tell anybody."
She meant it - I could see that in her eyes. Even furious and betrayed, she would keep my secret.
The shock of it ruined my carefully designed expression for half a second, and then I pulled myself together.
"Then why does it matter?" I asked, working to keep my voice severe.
"It matters to me," she said intensely. "I don't like to lie - so there'd better be a good reason why I'm doing it."
She was asking me to trust her. Just as I wanted her to trust me. But this was a line I could not cross.
My voice stayed callous. "Can't you just thank me and get it over with?" "Thank you," she said, and then she fumed silently, waiting.
"You're not going to let it go, are you?"
"In that case..." I couldn't tell her the truth if I wanted to...and I didn't want to. I'd rather she made up her own story than know what I was, because nothing could be worse than the truth - I was a living nightmare, straight from the pages of a horror novel. "I hope you enjoy disappointment."
We scowled at each other. It was odd how endearing her anger was. Like a furious kitten, soft and harmless, and so unaware of her own vulnerability.
She flushed pink and ground her teeth together again. "Why did you even bother?"
Her question wasn't one that I was expecting or prepared to answer. I lost my hold on the role I was playing. I felt the mask slip from my face, and I told her - this one time - the truth.
"I don't know."
I memorized her face one last time - it was still set in lines of anger, the blood not yet faded from her cheeks - and then I turned and walked away from her.