Pressure on my fingers. It was harder not to answer this voice, but I stayed paralyzed. I knew that the pain in his voice now was nothing compared to what it could be. Right now he only feared that I was suffering.

"Maybe... Carlisle, maybe I was too late." His voice was muffled; it broke on the word late.

My resolve wavered for a second.

"Listen to her heart, Edward. It's stronger than even Emmett's was. I've never heard anything so vital. Shell be perfect."

Yes, I was right to keep quiet. Carlisle would reassure him. He didn't need to suffer with me.

"And her - her spine?"

"Her injuries weren't so much worse than Esme's. The venom will heal her as it did Esme."

"But she's so still. I must have done something wrong."

"Or something right, Edward. Son, you did everything I could have and more. I'm not sure I would have had the persistence, the faith it took to save her. Stop berating yourself. Bella is going to be fine."

A broken whisper. "She must be in agony."

"We don't know that. She had so much morphine in her system. We don't know the effect that will have on her experience."

Faint pressure inside the crease of my elbow. Another whisper. "Bella, I love you. Bella, I'm sorry."

I wanted so much to answer him, but I wouldn't make his pain worse. Not while I had the strength to hold myself still.

Through all this, the racking fire went right on burning me. But there was so much space in my head now. Room to ponder their conversation, room to remember what had happened, room to look ahead to the future, with still endless room left over to suffer in.

Also room to worry.

Where was my baby? Why wasn't she here? Why weren't they talking about her?

"No, I'm staying right here," Edward whispered, answering an unspoken thought. "They'll sort it out."

"An interesting situation," Carlisle responded. "And I'd thought I'd seen just about everything."

"I'll deal with it later. We'll deal with it." Something pressed softly to my blistering palm.

"I'm sure, between the five of us, we can keep it from turning into bloodshed."

Edward sighed. "I don't know which side to take. I'd love to flog them both. Well, later."

"I wonder what Bella will think - whose side she'll take," Carlisle mused.

One low, strained chuckle. "I'm sure she'll surprise me. She always does."

Carlisle's footsteps faded away again, and I was frustrated that there was no further explanation. Were they talking so mysteriously just to annoy me?

I went back to counting Edward's breaths to mark the time.

Ten thousand, nine hundred forty-three breaths later, a different set of footsteps whispered into the room. Lighter. More... rhythmic.

Strange that I could distinguish the minute differences between footsteps that I'd never been able to hear at all before today.

"How much longer?" Edward asked.

"It won't be long now," Alice told him. "See how clear she's becoming? I can see her so much better." She sighed.

"Still feeling a little bitter?"

"Yes, thanks so much for bringing it up," she grumbled. "You would be mortified, too, if you realized that you were handcuffed by your own nature. I see vampires best, because I am one; I see humans okay, because I was one. But I can't see these odd half-breeds at all because they're nothing I've experienced. Bah!"

"Focus, Alice."

"Right. Bella's almost too easy to see now."

There was a long moment of silence, and then Edward sighed. It was a new sound, happier.

"She's really going to be fine," he breathed.

"Of course she is."

"You weren't so sanguine two days ago."

"I couldn't see right two days ago. But now that she's free of all the blind spots, it's a piece of cake."

"Could you concentrate for me? On the clock - give me an estimate."

Alice sighed. "So impatient. Fine. Give me a sec - "

Quiet breathing.

"Thank you, Alice." His voice was brighter.

How long?Couldn't they at least say it aloud for me? Was that too much to ask? How many more seconds would I burn? Ten thousand? Twenty? Another day - eighty-six thousand, four hundred? More than that?

"She's going to be dazzling."

Edward growled quietly. "She always has been."

Alice snorted. "You know what I mean. Look at her."

Edward didn't answer, but Alice's words gave me hope that maybe I didn't resemble the charcoal briquette I felt like. It seemed as if I must be just a pile of charred bones by now. Every cell in my body had been razed to ash.

I heard Alice breeze out of the room. I heard the swish of the fabric she moved, rubbing against itself. I heard the quiet buzz of the light hanging from the ceiling. I heard the faint wind brushing against the outside of the house. I could hear everything.

Downstairs, someone was watching a ball game. The Mariners were winning by two runs.

"It's my turn" I heard Rosalie snap at someone, and there was a low snarl in response.

"Hey, now," Emmett cautioned.

Someone hissed.

I listened for more, but there was nothing but the game. Baseball was not interesting enough to distract me from the pain, so I listened to Edward's breathing again, counting the seconds.

Twenty-one thousand, nine hundred seventeen and a half seconds later, the pain changed.

On the good-news side of things, it started to fade from my fingertips and toes. Fading slowly, but at least it was doing something new. This had to be it. The pain was on its way out...

And then the bad news. The fire in my throat wasn't the same as before. I wasn't only on fire, but I was now parched, too. Dry as bone. So thirsty. Burning fire, and burning thirst...

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