Thank you so much to the lovely Ms. Chandlure Trainez, (New York City's most elite beta-extraordinaire, haha!) for her edits and plot help! She is amazing, and you should really check out her story "Unconditionally and Irrevocably", here on FFN! It's a Twilight fic with the rules of the HP world—Will definitely keep you up at night with nagging questions.
That beta of hers is the shit too ;)
Be sure to follow me on fb under Seygen Belial for updates and teasers as they happen! **
"It's been a long December and there's reason to believe,
Maybe this year will be better than the last..."
On Christmas Eve of 2005, the citizens of the town of Forks Washington, while enjoying their turkey and ham dinners, their freshly opened gifts, and various festive traditions, braced for an incoming winter storm. The National Weather Service out of Tacoma was calling for as much as a foot of snow, dumping heavily through the evening and into the wee hours of Christmas morning. The local weather stations interrupted 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' and 'It's a Wonderful Life' multiple times with weather bulletins, calling for blizzard-like conditions upstate. Flights out of Seattle were preemptively canceled before the gale even rolled in. The sea along the coast surged as the wind picked up, howling from the thick swirling clouds of the impending storm. Huge, heavily loaded trucks trailing brine and rock salt hurried along main thoroughfares and back roads, their drivers happy to be making double-time holiday pay to make up for their Christmas expenditures. Windshield wipers stood on their ends on the cars, the owners hoping to avoid an icy entombment, and grocery store shelves were all but emptied of milk and bread. Visitors from out of town settled in, preparing to weather the storm in the holiday warmed homes of their families, having rescheduled their flights for the weekend when the weather was predicted to clear. Despite the coming winter storm, most of the citizens of Forks were snug and content as the storm rolled in from the West.
The Swan residence, however, was not quite so jovial.
Charlie Swan stood in the kitchen doorway, swigging a cold beer as he suspiciously watched his ex-wife, preparing a holiday meal.
"Honestly Charlie, I don't know why you look so worried, I am perfectly capable of baking a ham. They come precooked you know; you really just have to warm them up."
Charlie chuckled. "No, no. I appreciate you being here. I think I'm in a bit over my head. She barely eats, Renee. You should've seen her hands after she pulled that stereo he got her out of the Chevy, they were bandaged for weeks. I'm… I'm starting to worry that she might…"
Renee put the large baking dish into the oven and set the timer, before turning to face Charlie as he spoke.
"Maybe having you here for the holiday will snap her out of it." He continued.
Renee had decided to make the last-minute holiday visit when Charlie had informed her that Bella wasn't showing any signs of getting past the break up with the Cullen boy. She was listless, distant, and seemed to only do the bare minimum to keep herself alive. She had lost weight; her already slender frame was now gaunt. She no longer spoke to the friends that she had so quickly made when she moved to Forks. Her violent outbursts towards the beginning, right after the Cullens had left, were less worrisome to Charlie than her silence. At least then, there had been some spark of life, some hint of 'fight' left in her. The anger wasn't as scary as this sleep she was in, this nothingness she exuded. This silence, this despair; it wasn't normal. This wasn't the normal response to a teenage breakup.
Why was this Cullen boy so special? She had been popular upon her arrival in Forks, she could've had her pick of the boys in town. Mike Newton would've been a great match for her, in Charlie's eyes. Jacob, Billy Black's boy was a nice, respectful kid too, and was growing (quickly, Charlie noted to himself) into a handsome young man. Why was Edward (he bristled even at the thought of the pale boy's name) so irreplaceable to her? Surely it wasn't the boy's good looks; Bella wasn't that shallow. There was some kind of hold this boy had on his daughter that Charlie was at a loss to understand.
But maybe this visit from her Mom for Christmas would help her. Maybe it'd bring their Bella back. Charlie and Renee's Bella, the Bella she was before Edward had left, was still in there somewhere.
"Have you talked to her about what I said yet?" Renee asked Charlie expectantly, crossing her arms across her chest and cocking her head to the side. "About coming back home?"
Charlie hesitated. He hadn't. Forcing her was out of the question. He wasn't exactly in a hurry to lose Bella again, and the fury that had been rained upon him when it had been proposed to Bella before was still vivid in his memory. He knew that leaving with Renee may help Bella come out of this, but unless he felt that was the only way, he wasn't ready to present the idea. He was too afraid that Bella may accept the offer and that he would have to go back to only seeing her on holidays like today and the occasional visit. Now that she was eighteen, those visits would be fewer than they ever were. Bella was all Charlie really had.
"No, not yet… I just got her back, Renee."
She sighed and nodded. Renee always understood things like this, and a deeply buried part of Charlie's heart tugged towards the woman. It was times like this that he was reminded of why he had loved her, so long ago.
Since the Cullen boy left town, Bella had been nearly catatonic. Word was that Dr. Cullen had taken a position in Los Angeles, in some high-rise downtown hospital that surely paid at least double what the hospital in Forks had. Well, that was all fine and good for Carlisle, and honestly, Charlie Swan was perfectly content that the Cullen boy had left town. He'd never forgive him for leaving Bella in the woods, for breaking her heart, for hurting her so deeply.
Charlie set to helping to clean up the mess Renee left in her wake, as she prepared the small but adequate holiday dinner for the three of them.
When the timer went off, Renee pulled the ham out of the oven and set it beside the rest of the fixings on the kitchen counter, buffet style, while Charlie went upstairs to get Bella. Her door was closed, and he heard nothing on the other side. He knocked lightly, and it creaked open.
As usual, the lights were off. She sat in her rocking chair, facing the dark window. A crocheted afghan was wrapped around her shoulders, and her hair hung in sheets around her face, obscuring it from Charlie's view. He could see she was stroking a scar on her hand, a scar she had gained when she had run off to Phoenix earlier that year. In his heart of hearts, Charlie had always blamed the Cullen boy for the injuries she had sustained in her fall at the hotel. Yes, she was clumsy, but he could never shake the feeling that the boy had more to do with the incident than what had been let on. He was, however, grateful that Dr. Cullen had been there for her.
The room was cold, as if the window had been open recently and the heat from the vent hadn't had a chance to re-warm the dark room. Outside the window, thick fluffy snowflakes were silently falling. The branches of the trees were caked in white and stood out starkly from the pitch-black background of the forest
Charlie cleared his throat.
"Bells? Dinners done, honey."
She didn't respond. Was she asleep?
Catatonic. The word echoed in his head.
"Bells babe, your Momma worked hard, you should come down."
This seemed to snap her out of whatever trance she had been in, and she turned her head towards Charlie, where he stood in the doorway.
Of course, he thought to himself. She'll fake it to not hurt her mom.
It pained him to see how much Bella would suffer to keep those she loved from feeling the tiniest discomfort. At that moment, being a man of few words chagrined him. He yearned to find the right thing to say that would make her see how acutely he could emphasize with the agony of a broken heart.
"Oh, yeah. I'll be right down Dad. Thanks."
Even in the shadows, he could see her sunken cheeks.
It'll be good for her to get some heavy food into her belly, Charlie thought to himself.
"Okay…" Charlie responded, hesitating briefly before slowly closing the door.
"I promise, Dad. I'll be right down. Just wanna change real quick." Her voice, low and scratchy as if she hadn't spoken in a long time, sounded through the crack of the door.
"Alright. See you in a minute." Charlie said, his tone suggesting that he expected Bella to keep her word, and would be disappointed if she didn't. It pained him to use her own guilt against her, her fear of displeasing those she cared for.
He closed the door gently behind him and went back downstairs.
Renee was setting out plates and silverware. She hummed, what sounded to Charlie like 'Carol of the Bells', as she worked.
"You always did have a knack for festivity," Charlie complimented her, while he stood back to admire the small feast Renee had prepared. Ham, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, green beans, and dinner rolls. Simple, but delectable. Charlie's stomach growled, and he crossed the kitchen to get another beer from the fridge.
"Take it easy on those, old man. I think they're going to your head," Renee laughed in response. She was no better at accepting a compliment than her daughter.
But Charlie was right. Within hours of Renee arriving the morning before, she had taken the meager Swan Christmas tree and made it gleam with lights and tinsel. All it took was a mere twenty dollars in her pocket and a trip to the dollar store. Gifts that Charlie had not bought, wrapped in delicate paper covered in Santas and snowflakes, were nestled under the branches. Many gifts bore Bella's name, but a glance told Charlie there were some there for him as well. A plate of break-and-bake sugar cookies sat on the coffee table, and bright red and white trimmed stockings hung from the mantle over the fireplace. Renee had obviously done her best to lift the funereal pall that had hung heavily over the house since September.
He thought back to yesterday. Renee had come in, arms heavily laden with her shopping, and covered the small kitchen table in Christmas gear.
"Renee, don't you think she may be a little... I don't know... old for all of this?" He had said, picking up and inspecting a small plastic snowman.
"Yes, she's eighteen, but she's still our baby," Renee had reasoned, when Charlie had suggested that Bella was perhaps past the age for stockings and Santa Claus wrapping paper, sugar cookies and string lights. "And she is the only baby you or I will ever have. We need to savor it while we can."
He had to admit now, looking around his bedecked home, that forced though it may have been, her simple touches really had made it feel like a holiday. Charlie hoped it'd warm his daughter's broken heart, even just a little.
"I thought maybe we could eat in the living room, around the Christmas tree," Renee suggested cheerily. "White Christmas is supposed to be on at 8:00."
"Of course." Charlie agreed.
They both turned at the sound of Bella's footsteps as she descended the stairs.
"Hey, honey!" Renee greeted her, clapping her hands together excitedly. "What do you think?" she gestured towards the living room and the meal she had prepared. Bella peered around the corner into the living room.
"Wow, Mom. It's great. It's like back home." Bella's voice carried obligated enthusiasm and her smile was off; obviously disingenuous.
Poor kid, Charlie thought to himself. You can tell she's trying so hard.
"Go sit down in the living room, baby, I'll make your plate. Do you still like extra glaze on your ham?" Renee asked Bella.
"Mom, I can make my plate. It's okay," Bella responded. "You've done so much already."
"Pfft. Let me take care of you a little while I still can, will ya?" Renee turned and began piling a plate with more food than Bella would ever eat in one sitting. She paused and looked at Charlie as he watched her prepare her daughter's meal, half of her mouth curling into a smile. Her eyes were full of some kind of intuition that unnerved Charlie. It's like she can see right through me sometimes, he thought. She chuckled before she spoke again. "Go sit down, Charlie. I'll bring you a plate too."
He turned and walked into the living room.
Within a few minutes, Renee was next to Bella on the couch, and Charlie had pulled his favorite chair closer to the coffee table. Bing Crosby crooned from the television set about glistening treetops and listening children.
"Ah, if only people could age as gracefully as this movie has," Renee gushed. "It just never gets old."
Bella barked a strange, strangled sound in response, something between a laugh and a gag. Renee and Charlie both eyed her warily before they met each other's gaze. Charlie shrugged and looked at Renee as if to say, 'Your guess is as good as mine'.
The snow was falling heavier now, outside of the Christmas light lined living room window. It covered the ground and stuck to the branches of the surrounding trees. Little pellets of ice made soft plink plink noises against the glass. The wind was picking up and howled at the eves.
Bella sat with her plate in her lap, staring at her food. Charlie was acutely aware that she had only taken three bites of ham and a bite of potatoes. She seemed to skillfully push her food around her plate to make it look more eaten than it truly was.
"Bells, what's wrong? Aren't you hungry?" Charlie asked, prompting Renee to look towards Bella's plate as well.
"Oh God, did I get something wrong?" Renee asked, a hint of panic rising in her voice. "What's off, Bella, what did I mess up?"
"No, Mom, nothing. Everything's perfect." Bella reassured Renee, before she shoveled a large bite of ham and macaroni into her mouth. She swallowed loudly and added, "It's all delicious."
"Ok, good… let me know if anything is off," Renee responded, worry still in her inflection. She flashed a small grin and a wink towards Charlie.
It bothered Charlie—minutely—that Renee also seemed to capitalize on Bella's inability to allow anyone she loved to feel the slightest pain. The Cullen boy had undoubtedly taken advantage of that softness in her too; he was sure of it.
Though Charlie acknowledged Renee's expertise as a mother, it didn't escape him that Renee didn't notice that the bite Bella had stuffed into her mouth when pressed, was the last of the meal she had taken.
Renee stood and gathered the plates from their laps, and took them into the sink. Bella began to rise from her spot on the couch, presumably to assist Renee in the kitchen with clean up, but Renee came back before she could stand.
"No, no, no! Present time!" she said, pushing Bella back into her seat by her shoulder.
"But, Mom, it's only Christmas Eve," Bella responded. "What's the rush?" The dead tone in her voice still disturbed Charlie, and he noticed her eyes as they cut towards the staircase, seeking an escape. Renee seemed to ignore it.
"What, are you expecting Santa? C'mon, there's no point in waiting!" Renee retorted. She snapped her fingers. "Oh, that's right! I bought cocoa." She spun around to go back into the kitchen, erratic as ever.
"Charlie, will you pass out the gifts while I warm up some milk?" she called from her place in front of the stove.
Bella sighed heavily as Charlie began stacking gifts on the table in front of her. Her eyes gazed out of the window, its base beginning to collect the heavily falling snow, the colors from the string lights toning it red, green, blue, yellow, and purple.
"Now c'mon, Bells, she traveled all the way across the country. Humor her." Charlie chided his daughter as he laid an oddly shaped and messily wrapped gift on top of her pile. I don't want to make her feel bad, but how else can I get her to respond? Charlie thought to himself. To eat? To heal? To live? There was no parenting handbook or training manual on how to deal with this, and he was doing the best he could with what he had.
"No, I know, Dad. It's okay, I'm fine."
She said it automatically. Like she kept the words "I'm Fine" locked and loaded, ready in her mind, to shoot at anyone who questioned her wellbeing.
But she's spoken more this evening than any other time over the past three months, Charlie reasoned with himself. He clung to his hope that the holiday visit from her mother really would help bring her around.
They all opened their presents, while the snow piled up outside. The girls sipped on cocoa and Charlie began to feel the warm comfort of sleepiness as he finished his fourth beer of the evening. If he laid back in his chair and didn't think too hard, he could almost imagine them all as a real family. Not a broken family, living twenty-five hundred miles away from each other. Not a lonely man pining over his ex-wife, and a hollow shell of the girl his daughter had been just four months ago. He could sort of imagine them as a family with a mother and a father and a kid; the traditional nuclear family. The family he'd have if Renee had never left. He closed his eyes as his head rested on the back of the chair and smiled, letting himself get lost in his warm and sleepy, if not slightly drunken, Christmas fantasy. It wasn't ten minutes before he was softly snoring, as the wind whipped around the house and Renee chattered next to a silent Bella on the couch.
Charlie woke with a start as Renee, bending slightly to see his face, shook his knee and whispered his name a little louder.
The room was dark now, save for the muted light of the shining Christmas tree. The TV was turned off, and Bella was nowhere to be seen.
"You fell asleep on the chair," Renee said softly, straightening to stand, removing her hand from his knee. She had changed out of her hideous red and green Christmas sweater and was wearing the flannel pajama set that he had gotten her as a gift. He wiped his mouth and blinked, looking around the room. "Bella went to bed about an hour ago." Renee continued.
"Oh, alright then. Thanks." Renee smiled and her eyes met his for maybe three seconds—just long enough that Charlie began to feel uncomfortable—and looked away. She smiled and moved to sit on the couch again as Charlie stood from the chair and stretched. "I reckon I oughta hit the sack."
"I reckon you oughta," Renee replied, with a chuckle.
Charlie made his way up the stairs to the bathroom, stopping along the way to grab his old grey sweatpants from his room. He brushed his teeth and changed into the sweats before examining his shirtless self, for a brief moment, in the small bathroom mirror. His hairline was receding a bit, but it was nothing that troubled him. He was still in good shape for a man of forty-one. He lifted his right arm and flexed his bicep in the mirror. Not too bad ol' man. Not too bad.
He scooped up his dirty clothes and walked back to his darkened bedroom. He tossed his clothes into the old wicker hamper he kept in the corner, threw back his crumpled blankets, and fell heavily into the unmade bed.
Something warm and soft was already there.
"Shhh! Shut up, you'll wake up Bella." Renee whispered furiously as she shot up in the bed, pressing her hand to his mouth to silence him.
"Renee, what the hell are you doing in here?" he shot back at her, his heart pounding as he pulled her hand from his mouth.
"I was cold," Renee replied, nonchalant.
"Well, I can grab you another blanket from the closet, I—,"
But he was cut short as Renee pressed her finger to his lips.
"Just hush. Let me give you a present of my own, okay?" she cooed, beguilingly.
"Renee, what're y—,"
"Stop thinking so much. Shh."
She snuggled closer to his shirtless body and pulled the blankets up around them. Confusion crossed Charlie's face, but melted away as Renee began to kiss him.
Shrieks erupted in the blackness and Charlie jumped like he had been shot. Half asleep, he flew from his bed, flung open his bedroom door, and barreled into Bella's room.
Bella thrashed wildly in her bed. Tangled in her comforter, she was screaming bloody murder. The digital clock face on her bedside table read 4:57 am, and the sky outside was still dark. The snow had stopped falling.
"Bella! Bella!" He yelled, as he grabbed her shoulders and shook her hard. Her eyes flung open and she sat straight up in her bed as she let out a last ear-piercing scream. Her eyes bulged in their sockets with the exertion of her shriek in a way that disturbed Charlie to his core.
"BELLA! It's okay, honey! You're fine, wake up!" Charlie shouted into her face, trying to snap her out of her nightmare. His heart hammered in his chest and his hands shook. "Baby, I'm here, I'm here! It's okay!"
"Oh!" she cried breathlessly, her wild eyes ringed in deep purple, searching frantically around the dim room. "Oh..." she repeated softer, putting her hand over her face.
"Another nightmare, babe?" Charlie asked, his breath still coming fast.
Of course it was. The same as it was most nights. The wails and screams that woke him almost every night, ever since that asshole had broken her and left her in the woods, alone. He wondered inwardly, as he had often in these past months, what horrors his sheltered, eighteen-year-old daughter's mind could possibly hold that produced such terrors. What has she hidden from me?
"Yeah… yeah, I'm sorry, Dad." She said, waving him away. "I'm fine."
Charlie eyed her, unconvinced.
"God damn, Bells." Charlie sighed and pulled her into a hug. The salty smell of her hair, damp with sweat, filled his nostrils and he breathed it in deeply.
"I'm sorry, Dad. Really, I'm fine. Just a bad dream. I'm going to try to go back to sleep for a while." She continued, working herself out of his hug and laying back down onto her pillow. Charlie could see her pulse in her neck and her forehead shone with perspiration.
"Are you sure, baby?" he asked, his voice barely more than a whisper.
"Yes, Dad, I'm sure. I'm fine."
"Well… Merry Christmas, kid," He grabbed her hand and gave it a squeeze, but he wanted more. He wanted to hold her like he had when she was small—when her problems were those of a child; back when he could still make them all better again.
"Merry Christmas, Dad… it's a shame Mom had to leave in such a hurry."
Charlie looked at her in surprise.
"What?" he asked, perplexed.
"Didn't she tell you? She woke me up around three. She found a flight out of Portland online. Guess they didn't get as much snow as they were expecting."
Charlie was stunned. "What about her rental?"
"She's going to return it at that airport instead."
He couldn't find the proper words for a response.
"She wanted to get home in time to see Phil for Christmas too," Bella explained, excusing her mother's abrupt departure.
Charlie stood from his crouch next to Bella's bedside and stared out of the window into the dark snow-frosted woods.
"Dad?" Bella asked. "You alright?"
"Yeah Bells, I'm good. Just worried about her driving in snow, that's all."
"She said she'd call when she could," Bella assured him.
"Oh, yeah. I'm sure she'll be alright." Charlie replied, fighting to keep his voice steady. "I'm gonna try to get a couple more hours of shut-eye myself."
"Okay, Dad…" Bella responded, an air of suspicion in her voice. Sometimes, she could be just as intuitive as her mother.
Charlie stepped back through her door and closed it behind him.
He climbed back into his still-warm bed, and laid his head onto the pillow next to his, breathing in the scent.
It still smelled like her.
"Merry Christmas, Renee…" he whispered to himself.
A single tear leaked from the corner of his eye as he closed them, and tried to fall back to sleep.