A/N: This one was for the Secrets & Lies Contest. Inspiration came from my love of action, mystery, and skilled men with secrets ... oh, and Homecoming podcast. Man, you gotta listen to that if you haven't.

Thank you to the contest hosts, readers, and judges. This one made 1st place Judge's Vote, 3rd place Public Vote, and Judge's Pick by our fabulous Vagabonda. Not forgetting all the reviews and votes AND Ninkita for betaing and making this 500x better. I effing love you guys. *hearts*

I seriously love that these contests are made to help writers get their stuff out there and get fresh eyes that wouldn't usually search and find these new works and authors. This fandom is supportive and brilliant!

Loved writing this. It felt like a personal milestone for me that I can't really articulate, so I'll leave it at that.

Enjoy.


Summary:
George, the diner cook, loves watching sweet Isabella work in her flowery, yellow apron from the kitchen window. Edward, the new busboy, seems to spy on her, too. Curious, the old man inquires about his sudden arrival to this quiet and sleepy town. Edward's answer makes him laugh. What George doesn't know is the mysterious boy was nothing but dead, bone serious.


It's a cherry pie kind of day

He's a simple man. Quiet. Likes his flannels, jeans, and white t-shirts. He likes peppermints in his pockets to juggle around his fingers. He doesn't know what to quite do with his hands and change just makes too much ruckus in quiet places. He takes long, slow walks wherever he goes. No car to fill up or clean up. Air and trees and nature fill up his lungs just fine.

Today he just got off a stranger's car. The older man with a beard saw him walking down the side of a desolate highway behind the railings that keep the trees from the cars. Edward kept walking, but the driver crawled by him for at least twenty yards until he relented.

Edward. That's his name. It's as old as his soul and the kind fellow who welcomed him into his car and this little town, the few miles it took him to drive Edward there.

Edward adjusts the camouflage duffle bag over his shoulder and looks around. The small square has a post office, a library, a small shop and a diner. It's picturesque and somehow just like the place where he once grew up. Nostalgia. He feels it in the pit of his belly; like he's come back to something, like he'll walk a few blocks up, make a turn, and his old backyard will be there.

But this isn't home. Home hasn't been a clear concept for a while. He moves when the time is right. It's in the air. The seasons come and go and he knows when it's time to move on. Sometimes, he has no choice.

He's a dried leaf, tumbling in the wind after it's detached from its host. His hope is never to be crushed or crumbled to smithereens by a boot or a rock. He longs to be lost in the pile by a tree; unbeknownst to anyone. Just let him be.

He walks around, never in a rush. In no time, he's politely nodding at the lady with the gold key to his new motel room.

The bed is springy, the curtains are old, but he gets animated rodents included and a TV with far less static than the old motel he left yesterday. It doesn't matter much. He likes books and he has his mind to help him wander when there's not much else to do. What he likes best is watching the world go by his window for hours. It's his bliss.

Maybe today, before the small town awakes and begins its morning routines, he'll take a walk to the cold, blue beach. He has his eye on that library, but mostly that diner.

…..

The bell bings. It cues the tired, disgruntled cook when a new order has come in. He grunts.

Edward notices it's the grunt he makes when he's annoyed. The middle-aged, dark skinned man has at least four different grunts. The waitress with dirty blonde curls and long saggy wrinkles passes by and asks him a question. He grunts again and that one was a "Yes." Then he grunts when he bends to get this or that to throw on the hot skillet. Edward guesses it's his leg. Old battle wound. The limp is settled and old.

The waitress is the badgering supervisor. Her orders are loud and concise. She means business. A genuinely dry character like hers would never add more to doggy bags for the single mom or the elderly woman in a big, elaborate coat and cakey makeup. But Edward observes and sees she's kind at heart.

He's betting she's lived here since birth, got this job at a young age, and mastered the skill of managing a place like this.

"Coffee?"

Edward looks up.

The other waitress is the young and pretty one. But her eyes, her sashay, and her suggestive smile tells him far more than he'd care to know. She's been hovering. Coming by his booth whenever she finds an excuse. This time, his empty mug.

He's new eye candy. She thinks there's definitely no one quite like him in this town. She's bored and he is just the right amount of mysterious.

He nudges the mug toward her with a thumb.

"You don't talk much, do you?" she asks. It isn't her first question. This is her fifth. He's answered zero of them.

It isn't her he needs. Why bother? He's careful with his words and uses them when they're a last resort.

He reads her name tag and looks behind her by the dip at her hip to spot the waitress on the next shift coming in.

"Waffles. Extra bacon. Thanks, Angela." He has no choice but to ask for that. A man's gotta eat.

His eyes follow the other waitress around as she folds that apron over her middle and ties it in the back. The way she talks and greets everyone brings lightness to a disgruntled and pensive group. She rubs off on them and rubs the cook's back as she passes by, too. He doesn't grunt this time, but he does grin.

"Don't you give me that look, George. You're a gentleman, remember that," she shouts over her shoulder, her hands busy already refilling the coffee machine.

He ignores her comment. "How's the boy doing today? First day of school, huh?" George asks. She beams.

Her hands wipe over the apron pressed to her thighs. The tie is perfectly folded over her slim waist, small flowers decorate the seams. Edward can't help but notice what George sees and why he grins. It's her glow, the long tendrils swaying at the small of her back, fuschia lips over perfectly straight teeth that awestrucks … anyone.

Edward wonders how they'd feel against his skin drawing blood.

He thinks these things and he cringes. It is slight. You would miss it. Just as quickly the visuals go away. It's always been like this for him. It takes over, cloaking his eyes, and he imagines the most animated scenarios no average person could conjure up.

Angela comes by and drops off his plate of waffles and extra bacon. She doesn't bother with a sixth question. He's glad.

When he picks up the local maple syrup in a glass container—nature enclosed in a man-made material just feels wrong—she looks over her shoulder. Their eyes meet. Hers flicker away first.

He eats. Then he leaves. He makes a note in the deepest corner of his polished and sharp brain to come back again tomorrow.

…..

He sees the sign. His stomach rumbles. His last meal was the waffles. Then he sees the sign over his head.

He goes in and grabs the 'help wanted' paper in red. The supervisor is behind the counter. He simply slides the sheet over to her. She gives him one good look. He wrings his hat in his hands, waiting.

"You know how to keep a place tidy? Wash some dishes, haul out trash out back, and stack boxes when they come in?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

She stares for a while. "Smile for me a little."

He's taken aback. He never is. "Ma'am?"

"Go on."

He tries. They're not the muscles he uses, maybe never. Carol just sees a tight discomfort, a banshee trying to let one rip. But his green eyes are honest. And it doesn't hurt that he reminds her of her son at his age. Fit. Lean. Tall. Just the right amount of lanky. But his straight as a board spine is the only difference. She thinks he could melt a woman's pantyhose off if he practiced said smile.

"You'll start early tomorrow. We're too busy today to get paper work and train you." She moves quickly.

And that's how Edward finds a job.

He sits at the counter and is surprised to see fuschia lips smiling shyly at him. She wipes the counter in front of him even though it's already clean.

"Congratulations. Welcome to the loud and tired diner family," she says. He nods and grabs a menu.

This is the perfect moment.

"It's a cherry pie kind of day. Don't you think?" he asks. He looks from under his lashes to gauge her reaction.

Her faint smile lingers. She blinks blankly back at him. But then her lips turn down like cherry pie isn't a bad idea. "Sorry, we only have sweet potato pie today. Locally baked. Brought in every morning." She shrugs. "Want a piece?" She's already cutting one up for him.

He orders eggs and extra bacon to go along with that piece she slides over. Then he rushes out to flip his phone and hit that soft button. It's too early for that monthly call. But then again, days like this never go this wrong.

Maybe he stopped at the wrong town.

….

Edward is sweeping after flipping all the chairs upside down. He's got on a white t-shirt, jeans, and an apron wrapped around his middle. Angela leans on the counter watching. She's filling up sugar jars and salt ones. She could've done this task elsewhere but she hauled out all the containers out there to get a better look—of his biceps flexing. She notices his sleeves curled to his shoulder on one side, the slight sweat glistening around his neck. Her thighs press together where she sits.

It's been months, and to her it's been far too long without a man in her bed. Except, any man she's ever wanted has actually always made it to her bed. This time, it's like she's in another world and he doesn't know she exists. She huffs. Flips her hair over her shoulder.

"Bella, help me put these in the back," she calls. Edward glances her way. Maybe she should have Bella's name at her lips all day, just so he'll look at her, give her the time of day.

Bella pops out of the kitchen and she's laughing and talking over the small window overlooking George. And she's beautiful. That's what Edward thinks, not Angela. Angela thinks she's looking tired and boring. She's a mom who doesn't have time to hit the local bars and have drinks with her friends. She's bitter about this.

Bella, none the wiser, bundles sugar jars under her breasts and disappears again. It's like the light dims for him when she's not in the room.

Edward waits for the late hours when he gets to close up the diner with her. For the past few nights he's been walking her home after offering politely.

It's been dark out early and he's noticed she doesn't have a car like him. As they've walked, she's never let the moment between them grow silent. She has a way with words and telling a story. And when he stopped at her stoop—a warmth exuding from her grandmother's small glowing house—he stepped back some and forced himself to be patient and not run in.

He listened to her struggles and trials. Raising a boy on her own is hard. He nodded in the right places and asked the right questions. He's never had to talk this long with such interest. But then again, he's never felt what he's starting to feel. Because when her hand came in contact with his at the diner that morning, a bolt seared his muscles. He watched that hand slowly slide over his knuckles until she passed by him. Like poison ivy leaving its essence behind, her touch burned his hand the rest of the night. He thought he'd grab that steak knife by him and skin himself to make it stop. He'd stab through the slab and let it hang on a wall for everyone to see what she's doing to him.

Then he cringed again.

He walks her home and makes sure to push his hands in his pockets.

Now he takes out the trash after Angela gets too overbearing with the staring. He walks back into the kitchen to find more dishes. The nozzle showers them with scorching hot water.

George limps by him. "Military, right? How many years?" he asks. They haven't really spoken a word since he's come.

Edward turns an ear but doesn't look back. He wonders if it's that obvious. He guesses a soldier could spot another anywhere.

"Marines special operations. The Corps for years before that. Too many to count. How about you?" Edward asks. He guesses he should get to know him, too, if he's staying this long.

George whistles. "Special operations and the chump works cleaning grease off dishes. Something went terribly wrong along the way, brother." He waits for a reply that never comes. George turns slightly to look at the back of the boy's head. He wonders, but lets it go … for now. "Army myself. Got out of 'Nam without a leg." He knocks some knuckles on a prosthetic. Edward hears it.

It's a slow hour. The girls up front get louder when there aren't customers to wait at tables. Carol is less likely to yell at them to get back to work, so they talk, play music and laugh. George finds it relaxing. It means he gets fewer orders his way.

He shuffles slowly, lights a cigarette by the back door and blows it out through the screen keeping the bugs out. He loves this time in the evening. It reminds him of quiet nights in Vietnam, writing letters to his sweet Joanna. He'd sign them with "love and kisses" at the end.

"So, why are you here?" George asks this stranger in his kitchen. The boy is all lean muscle under those stained and baggy clothes of his. He's seen him load in two boxes at a time without a huff or a puff. Fresh and straight out of training. There's a certain look these boys carry for years after. Civilian life doesn't really erase it.

He waits for an answer.

Edward finishes and wipes his hands on his apron. He leans on the metal sink. George offers him a stick. Edward lights it with a flick of a match the old man hides behind the fridge.

George isn't as stealthy as he thought.

He ignores that, but speaks. "You know, I knew these fellas. They were sent out in these special forces. Had to do these missions. They were like gypsies. They owned nothing but the clothes on their back, survived the wilderness, out of scraps, and they traveled alone. Bounty hunters of sorts. Some were sent to find rogue agents from the CIA.

"I tell ya, I've always wanted that job. But I would never have passed the tests." He points at his chest. "I was too soft in here. Too honest. My Joanna always said I could hold a secret to death, but it would do just that; kill me. I didn't do it because of her. I wanted to have kids, grow old, lie with her every night if I wanted. Then she died in the middle of that life of ours, and … this old man you see here was too soft for such jobs."

Edward listens. He brings the cigarette to his lips and tries to remember the last time he's had one. He feels good for a change. And the combination of watching Bella's skirt sway around her long legs while she dances to whatever plays on the jukebox, just makes the moment more pleasant.

"So are you here to kill an old man?" George finally asks. "I have to warn you, I have no secrets these days." He chuckles low.

Edward finally shakes his head. "No. I'm here to kill Bella's boyfriend." He takes another long pull and lets it out nice and leisurely.

George glances out the small window to the diner. He sees what Edward sees. Heck, he sees it everyday and covets the same. It's been years since his Joanna passed away. But he knows, full well, that Bella doesn't have a boyfriend. The father of her kid has been gone for years now, too.

The kitchen is suddenly filled with George's hoarse, wet, throaty laughter.

Edward practices those muscles and gives him a smirk. But really, he's never been this focused in other missions. He was nothing but dead, bone serious. The old man really is out of touch when he finds it hilarious.

….

Edward pushes the soft button. He brings the phone to his ear and stares out at the top floor of the glowing house. The windows illuminate the yard out back, but not enough to brighten the trees where he's hiding.

The diner closed. He walked Bella home. Then he made a loop around the neighborhood and found a spot in the woods where no one can see him.

He's frustrated, hungry, tired, and his fingertips are prunes from the pile of dishes he had to wash today.

When the line connects he says, "I'm leaving. This is a waste of my time. Sign me a new one or I'll go off radar for good."

There's silence on the other end. Siobhan wonders if she should report him or hang up. But then, he's never set an ultimatum.

"Anthony, you have no orders yet to exit. Say the phrase and it should give her the clue who you are and why you're there. She knows where Corporal Whitlock is. We know he's in your location," she says.

Edward runs frustrated fingers through his hair. He's usually very respectful toward the mission director, but he's tired of having to explain that this can't be the town, nor the diner. Bella is a sweet, quiet citizen with no connection to anything but the diner, her grandmother, a kid, and financial struggles. Angela is a local, has been since birth. The only other option would be Carol, the loud, angry supervisor. These people have no idea about a missing Corporal.

"Have we checked the rest of the town? The shop? Harry, the owner, seems suspicious. Maybe the chief of police?" he asks. Siobhan is silent on the other end. Edward sighs. "Yes, ma'am. I'll report back in a month."

"Thank you, Agent Anthony. I'll be waiting."

Edward climbs up a tree. If he's going to do this, he will do this right. The trunk is at his back and he ties his legs to the wide branch, securing the loops. He's not going anywhere. His view of the windows to this house is right where he needs it. He brought binoculars to see every movement inside. Just one slight oddity, any sign; he'll run in like a thief in the night.

All he sees is a mother tending to her child. The bedtime story. The kiss on the forehead. The good night. Then he sees skin upon milky skin after following Bella to her bathroom. The water runs, steam rises, and a robe is pulled off her shoulders.

And maybe he shouldn't stake this out.

The binoculars in his hand dips. He blinks against the pitch darkness. But he's tired, he's hungry, and his fingertips tingle back to life. A warmth finds its way to his middle. This pitch darkness is too lonely. This lifestyle is also. George was right to choose a wife and a life around her. Edward has not been so lucky.

Other missions have gone smoothly. He is stealthy, he watches and finds what Siobhan is looking for, and it makes it feel worthwhile. He does his job and does it well. It doesn't take long at all … not as long as this ordeal has taken. He realizes then, "What is it all for?" It surely isn't for himself. He could have a simple life and live like these quiet folks do. Work a job, come home, have a beer, kiss your kids goodnight and your wife, too.

His jaw tightens. So does his grip on these magnified eyes he uses. The binoculars rise back up.

He sighs. Instantly. Right through the lenses, he sees her. All of her. And Bella is a sight to hypnotize.

The steam hides everything but her silhouette behind the shower glass. Her curves, the dip of her waist. The roundness of her breast when she turns. She submerges her face under the spray and lets the day wash away.

Edward can't remember the last time he's felt that elation of letting go, of finding peace and comfort in what is yours; a home.

She steps out and engulfs herself in a towel. Her hair is piled up on her head, her neck long and free to be smothered with lips.

But then he'd never think this moment would end like this.

He holds his breath, takes the binoculars to his chest because it's impossible. It can't be.

He doesn't move a muscle when Bella suddenly looks up and severs him deeply with a look.

The door sounds hollow when Edward knocks. He keeps his promise to come. All night he sat on that tree, simmering, turing the idea of leaving in his mind until the morning broke. No sleep. Not a wink. He's had nights like these but never one where he doubts and is furious with himself. He has never been caught off guard in any circumstance. Why did she look out? Was it instinct? The feeling of being watched? He doesn't know.

His subject opens the door. She's just as alluring this close. She grins and glows and lets him in.

Usually, Edward would wait outside, but desperation never had a hold of him so tightly. He needs to see what's inside.

Bella lives like any mother who is loving and efficient and never dependent on anyone but herself. Her furniture looks worn but clean. Appliances out of date but still functioning. She cares, and polishes what she has until it shines. Anything for her son who needs stability. All Edward looks for is any sign of life that isn't hers or her son's. There have to be remnants of a male's possessions here and there. A boot in size ten missing its pair somewhere. A jacket hooked by the door. Anything.

There is nothing. Not a speck.

This time, this independent mother asked for someone's help. Her boy needs to go to a doctor's appointment and she's in need of a helping hand. Edward offered to stop in early and walk with her to the clinic.

The pair shuffle out of the house; loud, messy and unprepared, but the boy is awed as he looks up at the tall stranger at his side. He grabs a few of Edward's fingers to hold and the gesture sends a bolt of discomfort through him. It tugs at a place deep inside, feelings he's not used to feeling or dealing with. Unease settles in him.

Ready or not, they set off as the sun is coming up.

Bella turns a nose to his shoulder discreetly. "Did you walk all the way here?" she asks. She knows he did—he always does—but she asks anyway to get him to talk.

She finds this man fascinating. She lets him into her world little by little. It's in her nature. She likes to get to know someone's deep insides and dissect them. She wants to know where he's from, what makes him tick, and even his weaknesses. This human is nothing but a delightful challenge for her.

He looks over in question and she smiles teasingly. The boy looks up and gets a good whiff, too. "You smell like pine trees and grass," he blurts.

Edward looks away, his jaw muscles tense.

Bella reprimands but bites down on a grin.

This is too good, she thinks. George would get a hearty chuckle out of this. And maybe she will tell him. Everyone seems to be enchanted. Whenever Edward's ear is far, the diner family talks. They wonder who he is and why he came. She settles the gossip stirring up. Her empathetic heart knows he's special and no one should make him feel different. She calms the waters, sends Angela to wait tables and to leave the poor man alone.

Really, she's hoping, scheming, to have him all to herself. She can't wait to break him down. And to do so she'll have to lay it heavy.

She, too, takes a few of his fingers to hold. This time, his eyes don't let up when he looks down at her. His hand instantly curls around hers.

He can't. He won't. He will not accept that he was sent here to find her.

She knows he goes hungry. His utensils get moving over his plate in the early hours of the morning before the diner opens. They dropped off the boy, opened up the place, and they both started setting up for the day.

But he's hungry. Always is. She's the one to fix him his plate.

She smiles at him and stands by watching him eat. Famished. Like he's surviving an apocalypse and every calorie counts. She pushes herself off the counter and gets the fresh pot of coffee to pour him another. He barely looks up, nods once, and gingerly sips it up black—no sugar or milk—through his full lips.

She waits for it and it always comes.

Edward looks around. Stares out at the rising sun, and he says, "It's a cherry pie kind of day." His eyes cut to hers. She can't help but smile over trying her hardest not to let her stomach flip with that look he gives.

"What is it with you and cherry pie, anyway?" She laughs. He swipes his tongue, balling his cheek to get the remnant pieces of his last bite. He takes his eyes away. His expression is one of skepticism and defeat.

Luckily, the new pies that came in a while ago might just contain a cherry one. Bella pulls the cellophane from the stack and finds it. One hefting piece for the odd gentleman coming up. Pie for breakfast never hurt anyone.

He watches her all the while. Especially when she bends. And he thinks; there's no possible way she knows anything about a Corporal.

He's willing to let it all go and find a big life here in this small town. Maybe he's getting old. Maybe he's been a tumbling leaf long enough. This woman and her starry eyes could give him everything he never thought he'd need.

He feels that phone in his pocket, and it burns. If he pulled it apart from the back and dug in deep he could find the tracking piece. It could mysteriously go away, or be crushed under the sole of his boot. Siobhan, or anyone, would never find him again.

He turns the fork over the wedge she cut for him. It isn't his favorite, but now he'll have to eat all of it. The phrase was a key to set off something that should've been asleep inside her. Instantly, she would know why he's here and what she needs to do next. Point the way toward Corporal Whitlock, send Edward his way, and everyone would go on with their day.

Would. But not today. Today he stacks the plates he wiped clean and goes to wash them himself before the crowd of hungry locals come their way.

The day crawls. After a mountain of dishes, Edward is spent. George is layered in stains and sweat. Both find the back screen door and take a breath. Edward's stomach gets rumbling again. He extinguishes the butt under his boot while George is still finishing his cigarette. The place is full, but most customers are lingering and having their piece of heaven pie.

Edward sneaks back in and decides a little break watching Bella move around gracefully would be a great time spent. The back booth is empty so he slides in.

Like clockwork, Angela walks by and gives him a look. But he's not here for her, he never was.

He watches the pretty girl in a yellow and white apron. Her ponytail sways behind her, curling at the ends. He imagines twirling it around his fist and catching her lips. Maybe he should. Right now. For everyone to see.

This time he doesn't have to cringe. The vivid imaginations haven't been so grotesque in weeks.

Bella tames the fire. He realizes she's a great influencer. She gets anyone to order the special and sells whatever is on the menu that the kitchen has in abundance this week. He might even say she's a great manipulator.

The middle aged man at the counter has no chance. The chump came in for steak and eggs. Now he's picking on a bed of lettuce and a mound of chicken salad. He walks out smiling, not knowing exactly what happened.

Edward watches the whole exchange and she's talented. Maybe a little bit too good. When no one is watching she smiles to herself like she bent the rules of the universe a little.

He sits there past his break just to watch her do the same thing to other patrons. He's frozen, stuck to his seat. Watching surreal actions from an average, quaint woman.

And that phone in his pocket burns again, but with different reason. The place is loud enough. Edward takes the chance.

Siobhan is never the type to start with a greeting. You called, you speak up first. Get to the point. That's how it goes. So, he does, and he says, "Who is she?"

"I cannot see what you see, Agent. Please specify," Siobhan replies.

"Who the hell is Isabella Swan?" He's angry now.

The line goes silent.

He doesn't need to wait for a reply. His eyes glued to the front, burning a stare on the back of Bella's head.

That knife skids over the counter. She's a few feet away. How would she have the haste and stealth to reach over and catch the airborne utensil as it slides off the counter? But not just that. The child at the stool swiveling by his mother pushes a plate along with it. As she flips the knife through her fingers, a free hand cups the plate reflexively before it crashes to the ground. Everything is back on the counter safe and sound.

"I am not at liberty to speak of Miss Swan. Your mission is to find Corporal Whitlock, Agent," Siobhan says with authority. But it's an echo. His hearing grows faint. His heart speeds up, eyes dilated, and blood rushes through his veins.

As if Isabella Swan can sense Agent Edward Anthony bursting at the seams, she looks up. Their eyes meet. She wasn't aware of the watchful eyes in the room.

Slowly, she lets go of the plate and knife on the counter. Slowly she backs away, one foot behind the other. And slowly Edward coils himself into action.

Everyone in that diner stops what they're doing. Forkfuls of pie freeze mid-air toward gaping mouths. Some coffee cups never make it on tabletops. Everyone looks to see the busboy stand on a table and hop over others to get to the back of the diner.

Women yelp, men holler. Their tables jostle under Edward's boots. But he's like a rock skitting over water, rippling the surface every few feet. It's light and quick as lightning.

Angela lets out a searing scream as she presses herself to the coffee machine. Her eyes as wide as saucers witnessing her friend lift her dress to get a blade tucked and hidden there.

Edward ducks. The blade flies past his neck and clatters behind him.

His hip slides over the counter. Plates crash this way and that. Glass shatters under chairs. Supplies splay on the floor and even George looks over his shoulder.

Bella makes the jump. Her slim form swifts through the small window George spies through everyday to watch her. Not a tong or cooking spoon hits the floor. She lands on the balls of her feet clean. Edward follows behind, but this time the sandwich prep station topples over under his weight. He jumps out of the way just in time to keep the boiling oil Bella tosses from skinning him alive.

He grabs containers of tomatoes, diced up onions, and finally flour to fling them at her; enough to blind her. Then he reaches for the gun tucked in his pant leg.

George is all wide eyes on these demons coming to life in his kitchen. Carol pops her head out from her office behind him. He raises a cutting board just in time to catch a stray flying blade their way.

"Christ all mighty!" Carol yelps. She presses a hand to her bosom.

Edward grunts loudly in pain. The spray he uses everyday is used against him. Bella pulls on the cord and adorns his chest with scorching hot water. He grabs a few clean plates from a stack and flings them at her knees. She hits the floor. Her hand catches her fall on the stove—the perfect spot for Edward to slam down that flat iron skillet.

She screams murder.

Her back hits the floor and he stands above her. The barrel points at her head.

"Where is he?" Edward shouts.

She kicks up and the gun flies off his hand.

"Go to hell!" is her answer. She kicks hard, jumps, and skillfully finds her footing in no time.

Edward reaches over and gets a good hold of her ponytail. From daydreaming about a kiss to wanting to kill her. He pulls hard enough to get her from reaching the screen door, but it's useless. Her back hits his chest and that's when she maneuvers her legs between his. She grabs his arm and up and over his solid body goes around her shoulder. He lands on George's good old famous family hot sauce and other condiments.

She's a bullet through the screen door, while Edward's bullets fire after her. The pops are loud and the whole diner dives to the floor after watching the scuffle.

George sees the poor boy shuffle to his feet not so gracefully, as he's broken that table, too. He met his match, and he doesn't stand a chance.

"Well, shit," says George. He watches the boy go. Edward barges through the screen door taking it off its hinges.

Never in all the years of his life has George witnessed two people run as fast and as hard.

Edward's focus now is that silky brown hair billowing through the wind as she moves away from him. But he figures, wherever she goes is where the Corporal is.

Then he spots a phone in her hand as she runs. She too hits a soft button. She tries to send the Corporal a warning signal, but Edward aims high and aims right. One shot and the phone pops out of her palm, never missing a stride.

She slides over the hood of a car and it's like she had this all planned. No car but for the one she keeps hidden in bushes yards behind the diner.

The engine roars to life and so does Edward when he takes the leap with all his strength. He lands on the trunk as the wheels turn dirt off the road. One good grip and he's got a good plank to lie on. He's not letting go.

His legs flail behind him trying to find purchase. One pull and he's riding the wind right above her.

But she's got him right where she needs him.

She slams the brakes and that's when he goes flying. His body falls hard after tumbling past the hood and over the grill. Textbook move. It's why he waits for the perfect moment when she accelerates like she likely will.

He gets up. One shot. Two shots. Three. The windshield shatters. He jumps and lands where the windshield used to be. He tumbles right into the back seat with the velocity. Shards of glass fall everywhere.

Bella hears the cock of the gun. Her heart locks, too. This insidious man found a way around her plan and pressed that barrel right to the back of her head.

"Take me right to him," Edward says.

So she does.

"Whitlock!" Edward calls. He pushes Bella to move toward her own house, but he's got her good and secure by the neck.

She stubbornly drags her feet until he pushes her again. The door swings open.

The Corporal is pale like he hasn't seen the light of day in years. Maybe he hasn't. All Edward cares now is to stick a fork in this and move on.

But this woman in his arms finds a way out of his grasp.

Bella heaves and rushes to get to the Corporal on the porch. Her knees hit the stoop where she stumbles going up and her loving boyfriend doesn't even acknowledge her. His eyes are on the stranger barging into his secret hiding place.

Edward aims and prepares for anything.

"Jasper!" Bella hollers. But she can't find her bearings well with tied hands. Edward's belt suits the job well.

"It's over. Come on out." Edward tells him.

"No!" Bella is just getting in the way now. She staggers up and she's at the Corporal's knees like she's begging him.

His hands come around her tenderly. He hushes her quiet where she stands by him.

But Edward sees it. The switch. His hands curl around her middle until knuckles go white. His other hand comes back up with a Glock.

It was inevitable. Make her fall in love, give her a child, then use her to keep everyone away. He found a quiet life away from rules, regulations, and the government to live the way he likes.

Cowardly.

He presses the Glock neatly to her temple.

Bella is nothing but shattered the very second he does. Her lips tremble and gape, her cheeks wet with tears that pour out at this new revelation. The father of her child hiding in her house turns the gun on her.

"You come and try to make moves on her. I watched you. I could blow her brains out right now and take what you're trying to take from me."

Edward shakes his head. "I'm here for you. She has nothing to do with this."

"She doesn't?" The Corporal smiles. He digs the gun harder against her.

"Does she know you were planning to leave with everything?" Edward asks him. "Brazil is far away. She wouldn't know you were also taking the kid for ransom, right?"

Bella cuts her eyes to Edward, then at her Jasper.

"You son of a bitch!" she cries. Her elbows connect with his torso as she thrashes. She seethes, but she's stuck where she is now under his elbow.

Bella desperately finds control of her emotions. Her boy needs her. The years she spent catering to this psychotic man who betrays her, have made her sick and weak. She'd see herself killing her son's father; it would come to her like an image, clear as day and as real as her son's kisses. She would cringe and wipe the visual away. She had no choice.

Jasper suspected she would give him in someday, so he made new threats. This time, he spoke of taking the baby. Anything that would happen to him, he'd pay to find her and the kid.

It was too late. Bella had already made the call. She made plans she couldn't take back.

She swore she'd kill whoever the agency sent. And when he came, she kept the cry for help all to herself. She befriended this stranger who walked into the diner and lured him in. She thought she'd kill him and Jasper would never suspect a thing. Everything would be just as it was—her under his thumb.

But Edward was relentless. She didn't foresee someone like him being added to this equation.

She watches him from across the yard and plans have changed. Now she wishes looks could tell him to do what he was sent here to do...and quickly.

Desperation builds inside. Her fists ball up and her legs spread wide. Because as sure as this son of a bitch is a coward, he'll surely pull the trigger.

"Siobhan sent you?" the Corporal asks Edward. He smiles darkly. "That bitch always had it in for me. Tell her you've wasted your time coming here to take me in."

Edward takes a breath. The kind that slows his adrenaline. And just when he's focused on that spot between his eyes, he knows he's ready to end this.

"Who says I'm here to take you in?" Edward says.

The single shot echoes loudly. A heavy thump hits the porch.

Dead.

Edward is never the type to wait for responses, but he sees Bella's reaction. She cries and it takes up the entire neighborhood. Maybe from anger. Maybe from sadness. He doesn't know which.

What she is, is split angry. She was right; the bullet passed a mere fraction from her head. But she mostly regrets she didn't kill him herself. She cries from relief. From happiness.

Edward finds his bearings. He wipes at his forehead. Beads of dark blood roll down his neck, and the good old famous family hot sauce is still tacky in his hands. He lets the gun swing at his side and walks away. No car. No belt. No idea where he should go next.

But he does know this; the wind feels different. It circles around his heated skin. He takes a breath and digs deep to find that phone again.

One latch, two layers later, and the tracking piece is crushed under the sole of his boot. Right there by it, he drops the phone, never to look back.

He's done for good.

…...

The woods creak and the critters make their nightly call. He's home. A nice big log house with windows that take up full walls in the back.

From having only the clothes on his back and a single meal a day to this: a fully stocked house and a closet full enough to keep him warm in the cold winters.

He fishes, cooks his meals by the fire out back, and hikes for days on end to keep his muscles strong and solid.

Today he sets up the boat with all the rods and baits for a day out with his friend.

He knew his postcards made it when the old man showed up at his backyard one day. Unannounced and undetected.

George waddled over and sat down on the vacant chair by Edward like if the action were routine. He stared out at the view Edward had grown accustomed to, and whistled low. In no time, they picked up right where they left off.

George noticed how different Edward was. Smiles came easy to the boy's face. His quiet nature was less tense, and there was even a slight slouch when he sat back.

George was glad. And even more pleased he was given the chance to have someplace new to explore in his old age.

That's how's it's been for a year now. George comes and goes and when they meetup again they enjoy each other's quiet company.

But George can't admit he has a deep, guilty secret this time driving back down the miles to Edward's.

He grips the steering wheel with sweaty palms and makes a slow turn here, then there. The old wagon crawls to a stop behind Edward's rusty motorcycle.

Weeds are scarce this time. He can tell. He's lost count the many times he's told the boy to clean up the place. It's a man's job and it's a man's business to keep his place tidy.

He chuckles. The shutters are green and he never even knew there were any.

A stampede seems to climb up the stair-shaped logs and he cringes a little. But it's too late. He's going to do this even if he sees the end of a barrel pointed right at his head.

He steps through the unlocked door and lets himself inside. He whistles. The familiar shriek makes Edward turn an ear from the backyard.

"It's about time," Edward says when he enters the house. "I was beginning to think I'd need to dust off my gun to hunt you down."

George smiles and pats Edward's shoulder. His other arm leaves a load of tonight's dinner on the counter. "I would hope you still have that thing locked up. Go fetch the rest by the porch," he orders. His hand is already reaching for his leg to rub it better.

Edward willingly obliges. Since George has visited he's made the best bbq dinners in all his hungry life. He gives up his kitchen for George with no complaint.

He finds the door ajar. This isn't the suspicious part. It's the second he sees a small boy running in and quickly making his way to the other room.

Edward tenses instantly, freezing at the entrance. He looks to the door. Without a thought, he pats his side down. Habit. His guns are locked and they have been for a very long time now.

"Charlie!" Bella hisses. She pops in from the porch and leans inside to spot the infuriating boy. But she gets nowhere.

Edward and Bella find each other completely disarmed. A frozen pair.

Her lips press together and she knows this was out of place. Shame colors her.

"I'm sorry. I … shouldn't have come," she says. His searing eyes dig a hole right through her heart. She steps back when he comes closer.

"I just … I wanted to thank you. For saving Charlie's life. I … don't know how to begin to repay you," she continues to stammer. She doesn't even know how to put it all into words. They sound ridiculous to her.

He strides over. She can't help but glance at him from head to toes, every step he takes looks like he'd kill anyone in his way. Maybe this will be her last day.

He lifts a hand, palm up. She blinks at that. "Come here," he says. The fuschia lips he's missed are wedged between her teeth. She takes a breath and lets it go. She would never in a million years think he'd pull her over the threshold and kiss her without so much as a greeting.

She takes it. Wholeheartedly. She parts her lips and she finally gets to know him. This is how it should've been when he first laid eyes on her.

Charlie is curious. He comes around the bend and sees that tall man who smells of pine trees close to his mother. Her hand is folded in his, so he thinks he'll do the same. He runs over and reaches up to slip his small hand into the big one.

George chuckles heartily as he spies from around the corner. Hell, they already look like a family.

The End

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