Time is a funny thing. In some respects, it doesn't seem like it's been that long since my last post, but here we are almost a year later. I have to admit, 2019 was a bit of a whirlwind. Last January, I was assigned a huge and difficult 18 month project. I'm now 6 months away from the implementation date, there is still a ton to do, and somewhere along the way, I lost part of myself. As the pressure increased, I found myself pushing off my morning mindfulness practice to jump right into meetings, forgoing exercise to review a document just one more time, and losing my creativity to a stressed and spinning mind. I love my work, but I also don't want it to steal my life. Therefore, I'm refocusing and getting back to the things that matter. I wish I could say that the next chapter will post quickly, but these up and coming months are going to be some of the most difficult in terms of this project. What I can promise is that I will continue to write, and what I may end up doing is posting a little at a time. This story is heading toward the finish line and I will complete it. Thank you to everyone who is still reading and who has written a review and poked me for an update. They kept me going.
A big thank you to LostIn PA for taking a look at this. She helped with an earlier version, which has been edited and tweaked since then, so all mistakes are mine.
Now, on with the show!
Chapter 38 Recap: Bella puts her plan into place, deciding to separate the group in order to get the upper hand on Doc.
As soon as I grasp what she's left unspoken my argument crumbles. Being there would put her at risk. As frightening as it is to leave her, it is horrifying to think that I could be the reason she gets hurt. I have to let her go. "We'll keep in contact?"
"Okay, Mira, okay. We'll do this your way."
"Thank you." Releasing my hands, she checks her watch. "Shit, we need to move." Grabbing her Mary Poppins bag, she walks over to her suitcase. Rifling through, she grabs some clothes before stuffing everything around it back in so that she can zip it up. "I'm going to take a quick shower and then I need to have a little chat with our guests."
"I could use—"
She holds up her hand. "Don't even finish that thought, mister. I will shower and then you can shower."
"I know," she smiles, coming over to peck me on the lips one last time. Reaching the door, she pauses. "I truly love you. No matter what happens, know that." Before I can respond, she's out the door, closing it quickly behind her.
"I love you too, Mira," I whisper vowing that not even hell itself will take her away from me again.
Chapter Thirty-Nine: Back to Where We Started
"Eventually, everything connects."
The jostling van disrupts my mindless daze; the only sound interrupting the stillness is the tires humming against the road. I've lost track of time, a troubling indication that I should have tried harder to sleep on the plane, but the cast of characters onboard made it difficult. Surreal would be an understatement to describe the experience of watching the diverse aspects of my life collide. All of us cramped together within a confined space not only enabled, but also encouraged the various agendas to become public fodder.
The tension rolls off Edward, the sound of air rushing through the cargo plane drowning out any ability to whisper a calming word. He and Tyler have not broken eye contact since we boarded, both refusing to be the first. Charlie's keen stare does not miss their obvious hatred. I can see his mind calculating how to use it to his advantage. Directly across from me, Laurent flashes a grin, glancing sarcastically between the two before catching my eye, finding their standoff entertaining. My knuckles tighten, wanting to knock the smirk off his face, but knowing it would only add to the "entertainment". Biting my tongue, I shift my gaze towards Embry and Carlisle who are avoiding the fray by reading through files and Tyler's statement, searching for answers and an upper hand. I hope that their time will be more fruitful than ours is proving to be. The urge to join Emmett and Jasper in the cockpit and avoid this whole scene pulls on me, but I refuse to add to the already rich material for others to feed on by appearing to run.
"What's the play?" Tyler asks, still not backing down.
"None of your fucking business," Edward quips.
"I would say it is given that I'm sitting here or else you would have just left me behind."
"Spot on!" Laurent pushes sardonically. "Why bring us if we weren't going to play a role. Seems only prudent for you to share. What's the plan, Marie? I know you have one."
"I think you should shut your mouth, Laurent," Charlie growls, the verbosity taking me by surprise.
Laurent's gaze narrows. "I don't think we've officially met. Charlie, right?"
"Oh, believe me, you would have remembered if we had."
"Why so hostile?"
Charlie snorts. "The act isn't cute. You know god damn well that your arrogant greed, not to mention complete ignorance for the world you play in, is the fucking reason we're here."
Laurent's smirk widens. "I don't think I'm the villain in this story. Wouldn't you agree, Marie?" Charlie flinches.
"You're a fucking prick, Laurent," Tyler growls. "You forget that I saw your whole slimy show." He leans forward. "You're not as smart as you think you are. You got lucky with some information, don't make it more than that. You're nothing but a wannabe."
He laughs. "Wannabe, huh? Call me what you will, doesn't change the fact that I was the one who brought your shit to light."
"And almost killed us in the process. Don't think that I've forgotten about that." Tyler pushes back. "I still owe you one."
Laurent balks. "Please. You are the last one on this plane that should sound all high and mighty. Weren't you only Charlie's lackey in this whole thing? Charged with keeping Marie on a short leash. How's that working out for you?" He glances at the cuffs surrounding Tyler's wrists, similar to his own.
Edward snorts. "Good question. How is that working out for you?" I place my hand on Edward's leg, a signal for him to stop. I don't need him jumping into the mix, no matter how much a part of me wants him to puncture Tyler's ego. With a clenched jaw, he nods, appeasing my silent request.
Tyler glares at our interplay but thankfully chooses to focus his ire on Laurent. "I'm going to kill you."
"You keep telling yourself that, lackey." Laurent turns to me. "Funny how the tides turn isn't. Tyler was the one you thought you could trust when you got involved with me, yet who is the only one that has been willing to tell you to truth?"
"Don't spout off about things you can't possibly comprehend." Charlie grits. "You can't mess with the U.S. government and expect to get away with it."
He laughs. "And you're in a position to enact such justice? Aren't you currently rogue? Seems to me that being here and helping 'your kids' is messing with the U.S. government too." Charlie's face flushes. "Oh how the mighty have fallen."
Pinching the bridge of my nose, I take a breath. "Jesus Christ shut-up." Tyler moves to speak, but I hold my hand up daring him to defy me. "I'm in no mood for this bullshit. In fact, I don't give a fuck about any of it right now, so how about we all keep our thoughts to ourselves, and stop giving me a headache."
Laurent shrugs, unaffected. "There are bigger fish to fry, I get it." He thumbs in the direction of Tyler. "Not to sound like this one's parrot but you never did say what the plan is."
It's my turn to smirk. "Oh don't worry. You'll know soon enough."
He laughs. "You play a good game, Marie. You know I love a mystery."
"That I do." Little does he know that his excitement is for naught, he's simply here to play bait. I need his followers more than I need him. "Don't worry, I have a role for you to play."
"I'm all tingly with anticipation."
Edward scoffs. "Jesus, you're a pompous ass."
"One thing we can both agree on," Tyler adds.
"Bella," Charlie warns. "Be smart about the game you're playing."
"I didn't ask for your advice," I glance at my watch, "Look, we'll be landing soon enough and you will all get your orders then. Right now, we need to rest. It's going to be a long night."
The van jumps knocking me from my reverie. "God damn pot holes," Emmett grumbles from the driver seat.
Glancing behind, I'm amazed and envious to see that Carlisle and Laurent are still asleep, unaffected by the bumpy road. Tyler's eyes catch mine, silently trying to communicate his support and presence. Out of everyone, he should be the one resting. Although he's doing a good job of hiding it, his body is still not a hundred percent. I've known him long enough to recognize the difference. He's eager to use this opportunity to prove his loyalty regardless of his physical weakness. I wish I could trust it, but at least his desperation can be used to my advantage no matter how much it hurts to do it.
"I swear, Isabella Swan, one of these days you and you're tenacity are going to be the death of me."
"Don't say that. I don't know what I would do without you. You and Charlie… you can't leave me."
"I'm not going anywhere. You and me till the end, right?"
I close my eyes, blocking the memory. It's time to get my head in the game. "How much longer?"
"About an hour," Emmett murmurs from the driver's seat freeing me from painful thoughts. His eyes keenly focused on the road ahead.
"You should get some rest, Bella," Tyler pushes. The request is familiar; he's said it a million times on a mission when my body was too wired to sleep. Knowing he was there to keep watch usually helped. Tonight it doesn't, even though I know that he's not wrong.
Closing my eyes, I try to quiet my mind, which apparently has different plans. Scattered thoughts and memories swirl around. The endless mental chatter contemplating the possible scenarios of what's to come hard to ignore, especially when scattered between memories of separating the group once we landed. Charlie was happy to be a part of the second front, agreeing that we needed the element of surprise. Jasper eyed me knowingly, understanding that although Charlie will try to take charge, he can't be allowed to take over. Embry was quiet, recognizing the importance of his task to finish placing the breadcrumbs for our enemies. He and I knew that the timing was vital for this plan to work. Laurent's crew and Newman's task force need to arrive almost in tandem. If one gets there late, they may watch from afar rather than engage. I need them both to distract Doc's crew long enough to leave him vulnerable.
My last moments with Edward are particularly haunting. I didn't realize how much I've come to rely on his presence until I was forced to leave it.
Wrapping his arms around me, Edward presses his lips to my forehead. "Be careful, Mira."
"I will." I pull him in closer. "You too."
"Oh, no need to worry about that. I have my eyes on the prize."
Looking up, I smile through watery eyes. "Do you now?"
"Yeah, I do." His lips find mine bringing solace and comfort, the word home drifting through my consciousness. He pulls back, sliding his hands up to rest on my shoulders, his head leaning against mine. "They think they know you, but they don't. You have always been better than them, don't forget that."
He smiles sadly. "You amaze me, but you can't fool me. I know how much Doc meant to you. I saw it. He's going to try and use that to his advantage."
Sucking in a breath, I nod slightly. "Well unfortunately for him, the training he and Charlie ingrained in me will work against that. I can shut it all down when it comes to getting the job done."
He frowns. "Yeah, I've seen that too."
"Besides, the regard I had died the moment I remembered who he was and what he did. Now," I pause, painful memories igniting my hatred, "well, that love was lost as soon as Carlisle brought me back."
It's his turn to nod, although I don't think I've eased his concern. "They don't deserve you."
"They don't have me," I murmur. "I'm going to end this."
"And when you do, I have plans for us."
"You do, do you?"
"Oh yeah." He winks before kissing me until our breath is gone. "Hold onto that, Mira."
"I love you, Edward."
He flashes a brilliant smile. "I love you too."
The van's engine revs behind me, a sign that Emmett is growing restless. "We need to go."
"I didn't think it would be this difficult," he sighs.
"The feeling is mutual." It's hard to leave, however, Charlie's clearing throat finally forces the necessity.
"It's time," he barks, never one to appreciate sentiment, although, in this case, he's right. It's risky for us to stay here long.
Edward glances behind him with a sneer, before focusing on me once again. "I'll see you soon. Go kick some ass."
"Meet you at the rendezvous point." Reaching up for one last kiss, I turn and run to the van, sending up a prayer to anyone that will listen that our promises were not made in vain.
His echoed goodbye lingers as I stare out the window, my restlessness still outweighing my desire to sleep. The blackness outside makes my skin prickle, it's a perfect cover for those wanting to make an ambush. Shaking my head, I take a deep breath. My disdain for this desert has not diminished. I loathe Afghanistan despite the fact that both of my recent travels here were of my own doing. Knowing what I must do is often different from what I wish.
I wish that I could have chosen to stay in Sweden with Edward.
I wish that I could rely on Tyler as an ally instead of manipulating him as a pawn.
Most of all, I wish that I wasn't about to battle a man I used to trust.
Wishing, however, will not change my reality and the path I've chosen. Doc has ruined the lives of people I care about for far too long. His arrogance and desire to control the uncontrollable must be stopped. From all accounts, he and I have been heading here for quite some time. Free of his grasp, I can finally bring this sick game to its conclusion. Only one of us can win, and I'm sure as hell not going to let it be him.
"What's wrong, Bella?" Tyler questions.
"Nothing," I bite back.
"Well, nothing has caused you to sigh three times. I know you, you're distracted."
"Really? What would I have to be distracted about?" I mutter, irritated.
"Talk to me so you can work it through. You need to get ready."
Ghosts of similar conversations from a not too distant past invade my already chaotic thoughts. He was my rock. Heated, I twist in the seat to face him. "Fuck you."
He leans forward. "You have every right to be pissed and there will be plenty of time to hate me later, but if you want to get out of this alive you need to focus." My eyes narrow, but he doesn't stop. "I care about you, that was never a lie. Let me help."
My heart clenches, angry and sad all at the same time. He knows my patterns and idiosyncrasies better than most and it's saved me more times than I can count. It's what also allowed him to manipulate me so well.
"Leave her alone," Emmett shouts. "You're not her keeper anymore."
"I'm not trying to be!" Tyler counters, his eyes pleading with mine. "I'm not 'handling' you. We've always worked well together, no matter what, that hasn't changed. Let me help. Let me prove to you that I'm on your side."
Huffing out a breath, I focus back on the road. "It's a little late for that."
"I don't believe that," he retorts.
Turning again, I glare. "Fine. You want to help me focus? Can you stop the rush of lost memories from cluttering my brain or help align the two separate lives I've been living? Because that's the shit show I can't stop playing in my head."
He pales, suffocating on his remorse. "I know I can't change what happened, but I can still help you focus. To push the distractions aside, like we've done a million times on other cases."
I snort, running my hands through my hair. "It's really that easy for you, isn't it? To minimize what happened. To minimize your role."
"No! I don't want to hear it." Narrowing my stare, I twist further. "How many times did you take me to him? How many times did you lie to my face and then pretend to be my best friend?"
"I was given a job to do. I didn't have a choice."
"We always have a choice."
"And then someone else would have replaced me. Someone who didn't care. You are my best friend, Bella. That's not fake or a lie."
Unable to stand his scrutiny any longer, I focus on the darkness outside. "You and I have very different ideas about friendship. I don't need your help. I'm ready. Just stay out my way and do what you're told."
The seat rustles as he settles against it. "I won't let you down, Bella. Never again." He breathes lowly, making me wonder whether the last part was meant for his ears or mine. The guilt weighs heavily on him, I know, but it's not enough for me to try to alleviate it. He brought this hell upon himself, not me.
"Twenty minutes out." Emmett barks. "Still want to go through the front gate?"
Sitting up straight, I grab my bag double-checking the items I added before we left. "Yes. Play it like we discussed. Tyler, wake those two up."
I hear rustling as he shoves them. "Laurent, Carlisle, it's time."
Glancing over my shoulder, I ensure Laurent's handcuffs are secure. "Don't test me. I expect you to stick with the plan."
"Oh, don't worry, Marie. This will be fun." He leers, still believing that his only role is to mess with Doc.
Tyler," I motion for his hands, quickly unlocking his cuffs, "you betray me and I'll kill you myself."
He nods capturing my eyes. "I won't, I promise."
Driving to the gate, Emmett rolls the window down for the guard. "We're here to see Doc."
"Is he expecting you?"
Leaning across, I catch the guard's eye. "Tell him that Bella needs to see him."
Pulling out his radio, he calls it in. The silence in the car is deafening as we wait for confirmation. Finally, a muffled voice gives the approval. Opening the gate, the guard waves us into the complex. Unlike last time, Emmett drives right to Doc's front door. As we near it, he and Leah step out. By their appearance, it appears we interrupted their sleep.
"Showtime." Taking a breath, I channel the feeling of anguish. Today, it isn't difficult as images of my past flood my senses. Immediately, my body starts to shake, Doc's house blurring through watery eyes. I need him to believe that I've lost control.
As soon as the van stops, Tyler comes around to my door. Stepping out, he wraps his hand around my arm to guide me toward them. It makes me wonder if this is how it was before. Was I always upset when he took me in, or was I clueless to their deception? The memories of my fixes are some of the pieces left undiscovered.
"Bella?" Doc's voice sounds just as caring as it was the last time I was here, a sharp contrast to the harsh voice of my newly recovered memories. "What's wrong?"
"I need the truth," I whimper, struggling through purposeful tears. "I need to know what Charlie did."
Behind me, I hear the sounds of Emmett dragging Laurent out of the van. "Get your hands off of me. I can walk myself," Laurent growls. "You're going to regret this."
"Shut up and move," Emmett snaps back.
"Bella, what are you talking about?" Doc looks over my shoulder. "Who is that?"
Twisting, Tyler holds onto me as I gesture toward Laurent. Emmett pushes him closer. "He told me everything! Everything!"
"Nice place you've got here," Laurent scoffs. "It's amazing what dirty money can buy."
"I don't understand." Doc scrutinizes Laurent, his forehead wrinkling in confusion. "Do I know you?"
He cackles. "You should."
Dragging my hand through my hair, I unsuccessfully try to break free of Tyler's cage. "Did you know? Did you know what Charlie did?"
"Bella," Doc gently grabs me by the shoulders. Shrewdly, his eyes glance at Tyler, giving him a slight nod that I would have missed had I not been looking for it. Tyler flashes his own look, playing along. "Tell me what happened."
"The case with Laurent fell apart. I didn't understand why. I started investigating. Things didn't make sense and Charlie was ignoring me. I was able to get the jump on him," I point at Laurent again, "but he had these files." I pause, breathing rapidly. "And pictures."
Doc pulls me closer, his eyes warm and concerned. "Files?"
Pulling out of his grasp, I start pacing. Tyler shadows me, appearing ready to intervene. I strive to focus, once again wondering whether this is similar to the other times. Exhaling, I push the unhelpful feelings back, focusing on our goal.
"Pictures," I mutter, ignoring his question, "of me as child, with Charlie in a field and Embry. How does that even make sense?"
"It doesn't." He glares at Laurent. "It's clearly a trick. A photo shopped mockery to make you mistrust your own memories."
Laurent sneers. "The only thing fake is you."
"Laurent, was it? No one asked you to speak." He signals to one of his men who promptly snatch Laurent out of Emmett's grasp.
"No need to be grabby. We can share." Emmett holds his hands up. "We're on the same team, right, Doc?"
"Of course." With a quick glance, Doc acknowledges Emmett for the first time before focusing back on Laurent. "Is he the person behind Tyler's injuries?"
"Yes. He knew then. That's what went wrong."
"Bella, think this through. He's obviously playing some sort of sick game."
I shake my head fervently. "No, no. You didn't see the pictures. They can't be fake. I can spot fake."
He frowns. "Bella, you're tired. I can tell. Have you rested at all since you left? You're not seeing things clearly." He motions to Tyler, who stalls my frantic pacing. "Let me help. I can help you rest."
"It's not that simple. I thought the same thing, maybe it was a trick, but then—" I falter dragging out the next reveal.
"Then?" he pushes.
"I found him." I signal Emmett to bring out our next guest. Nodding, he leaves Laurent with the guard and strides to the side door of the van.
"Who?" Doc squints to see past the tint of the window. When Carlisle emerges, his face imperceptibly twitches.
Straightening, I casually wipe the tears from my eyes. "I don't think you need an introduction, do you?"
Doc recognizes the change. "I don't understand."
"You sure about that? From what I've gathered you know each other quite well." From the side I see Leah stepping nearer, her head tilted in confusion. I try not to linger on any feelings of concern for her. Not yet.
"Hello, Doc. It's been a long time." Carlisle moves tentatively alongside Emmett. "Can't say that I've missed you."
"Surprise!" Laurent laughs boisterously. "What do you have to say now, Doc?"
"Bella," He chokes, holding onto his charade, ignoring Laurent's attempt to bait him.
"It's over." Carlisle straightens his shoulders, although the shake in his voice negates the confidence he's trying to convey. "The program failed. You failed."
Doc blinks, but doesn't break. "I don't understand. I'm your ally. I've always been your ally."
"Shut up!" I inch closer. "The game is up. You lost your control over me."
"I said shut up." I take another step forward, causing him to move back. "I don't want to hear your lies anymore. I'm only here for the truth." He stares blankly, refusing to give in. "Don't insult either of our intellects by continuing this facade. You're smart enough to know you can't talk your way out of this." Striking quickly, I push him backwards. "I've fucking caught you. This charade is done."
His guards strengthen their stance as he stumbles, shifting their hands to their firearms. Emmett and Tyler do the same. Leah moves closer, confusion marring her face.
Brushing my invisible handprints off his shirt, Doc's face hardens with a bitter laugh, instantly morphing into the man of my stolen memories. "Is that so?"
"Wow," I exhale. "I have to admit, you gave up quicker than I expected." He glares. "Don't get me wrong, I appreciate it. I mean why waste time on a futile pretense, right?"
Swiftly, he invades my space. "Or maybe this has happened before and no matter how much you thought you had the upper hand, I always won. So what's the difference today?"
The comment steals my breath, the uncertainty of his statement a blow. Before I can recover, Tyler inserts himself between us.
"Except, I know that it didn't."
Doc's eyes cloud briefly before another mocking laugh escapes. "Suddenly the hero, Tyler? Interesting."
"I'm just doing what I've always wanted," he counters. "I'm done being your lackey." Laurent's lips twitch at Tyler's word choice, but wisely, he doesn't comment.
Doc shrugs. "Doesn't matter. The outcome won't change."
Empowered by Tyler's disclosure, I step around him to stand in front of Doc again. "How self-diluted are you? Trying to play God and for what purpose? Was it worth all the lives you destroyed?"
His hand reaches over to cup my cheek. "Sweetie." The term of endearment used to bring me comfort, now it sickens me. "Don't pretend to understand me or my reasoning."
I shove his hand away. "Don't pretend to understand me either."
His breath skims my skin as he leans forward to hiss against my ear, a hint of mint permeating my nose. "Bella, I created you."
Refusing to be intimidated, I tilt my chin, leaning back to outstare his callous gaze. "No, you merely tried to control me, which you failed miserably at over and over again."
"I guess that's one way to describe it," he counters.
Shaking my head, I grin. "You sow the wind, be prepared to reap the whirlwind."
An evil spark flashes in his eyes, his guards and Leah tighten their circle around us. "Are you sure about that?"
The air crackles as we stand toe to toe, neither backing down or saying more. Abruptly, one of the guard's radios comes to life with a distant voice. "Sir, we have incoming!"
With a smirk, I rise on tiptoes, mimicking his early move to whisper into his ear. "I'm pretty damn sure."