Endless thanks to Silly Bella for the tremendous amount of help, ingenious ideas, and gentle nudgings.
Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them?
...Even the wise cannot see all ends.
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord Of the Rings, Book Four, Chapter One
Edward stepped onto the gray cement of the tarmac and inhaled deeply, reveling in the intoxicating smell of rain and plants. Even here, surrounded by half a mile of sterile landing strip, the greenery of the Olympic Peninsula made itself known. He hurried through the little airport near Port Angeles. He was only ten feet from the exit when his cell phone buzzed. Edward grinned and answered.
"Edward!" Alice was ecstatic. "I saw you running towards Bella's house!"
"Alice," Edward said teasingly. Though Edward wasn't quite out of the storm yet, he could see the sun shining through the clouds that had loomed around him for ten months. He could allow himself a little happiness now.
"We're all driving down right now. Emmett is practically giddy."
Edward thought he heard Emmett's booming laugh in the background.
"See you soon, then," Edward said with a laugh before hanging up. He pocketed his cell phone and discreetly edged behind cars at the end of the parking. When he was sure no one was watching, he started to run. In sixty seconds he was two miles from the airport. He followed the highway southwest towards Forks.
He ran faster every second, because each second was one that he wasn't with Bella.
He was back.
He was back.
Though his return was due to a horrifying weakness, he could summon no shame for it. His weakness would deliver to him the greatest bliss he had ever known. All at once, he felt the silky hair, the warm lips, the soft, moist skin…he nearly staggered at the thought of kissing those lips again.
But you're getting ahead of yourself, whispered an insidious demon in the back of his mind. You don't even know if she loves you anymore.
Edward had to admit, the demon had a point.
What would he say when he showed up at her door? He'd have to beg, of course. Grovel. And even then he'd understand if she kicked him in the face for what he'd done. If he could be near her, smell her heady scent, then he'd be happy.
The little niggling thoughts never went away. What if Bella had moved on?
A sharp pain ripped through Edward's chest.
Voices—thoughts—of humans began to filter into his head, and he knew he was near Forks. He mentally rehearsed what he was going to do upon seeing Bella.
First, he'd fall to his knees and clasp his hands together. She'd be shocked, and that beautiful red blush would color her cheeks.
"Bella, I love you, and I always have. I'm so, so sorry."
Edward frowned. There wasn't a part of that sentence that wasn't true, but it wasn't enough. Maybe he'd offer some sort of gift. An offering at the goddess' feet.
A mahogany chest with her name carved onto it, full of rare jewels.
Edward knew she'd turn them down, but he could not think of any other way to show her how much he loved her, cherished her every breath. And he needed a good way, after what he'd done.
He was still debating between buying the Hope Diamond and a trip to Europe (maybe both?) when her house, his true home, came into sight. A quick mental scan told Edward that Charlie, at least, wasn't home. Edward ran around to the front and deftly scrambled up the siding, sliding Bella's window up and hoisting himself through with a familiar ease.
Bella wasn't there. And something…wasn't…right.
There were no sheets or blankets on the bed. There were no knick-knacks on the side table or dresser. In fact, Edward could tell that they had been missing from their spots for a long while because a thick layer of dust covered their previous locations, as well as the rest of the surfaces.
Bella's scent was gone.
Edward immediately knew that there was trouble. Bella had promised him that she wouldn't do anything reckless or stupid—but what would drive her to keep that promise? And hadn't he just broken his own promise by climbing through her window? Edward frantically began searching through the house for a clue to her whereabouts.
There were no clothes in the closet or dresser, and Edward wondered if that was because she was in long-term ward in a hospital, somewhere. Why, why had he left her? He knew it was for some stupid, noble, moral reason, but Bella's empty drawers just laughed at him. She was hurt, gone from this place because she had fallen foul of someone or something. What if…what if she had gone to Port Angeles with Jessica and met them again? A low snarl escaped Edward's clenched teeth.
Charlie's clothes were gone from his room. He was gone, too. Of course. Charlie wouldn't leave his daughter in a white-washed fluorescent-lit hell to languish.
The bathroom was bare of toiletries and personal effects. She was in a hospice because he hadn't been there to stop her from getting hurt. How could he have thought that leaving would have been best? If it hadn't been for him being there, she would have been crushed to death by Crowley's van a year ago!
Edward's breathing sped up to match the beating of a hummingbird's wings.
There was no food in the kitchen. When Edward opened the refrigerator, it was dark; the electricity had been shut off. A quick turn of the kitchen tap yielded rusty brown water. The kitchen sink hadn't been used in months. Edward pulled out drawers and opened cupboards like a man possessed. He had to find something, anything to show that Charlie and Bella had intentions of coming back, and that there was hope for Bella.
There wasn't even a mousetrap behind the fridge.
Something bitter and vile was filling Edward's mouth. He sat down at the kitchen table, determinedly ignoring the swirls of dust from the chair as he did so.
So Bella was gone. Charlie too, it seemed. Edward tried to examine other, less morbid, options.
They moved. But then they would have taken all of their stuff.
She went to college…but it was too early for that.
Why would Charlie be gone? Maybe that was the clue he needed. Perhaps Charlie had finally found love, and Bella had gone to live with her mother in Jacksonville. If that were the case, Edward would go there and search until he found her. Endless sunshine be damned.
Edward left the house and stood on the porch. He felt around under the eaves until he found the key. Why was it still there? Surely Charlie would have taken it if they had gone anywhere for long, as the missing wardrobes suggested.
It was then that Edward noticed the sign at the edge of the front yard. It was nailed to a wooden stake and faced away from him, so he went to see what it said. The words chilled him to the very core.
AUGUST 13, 2006
Edward read and reread the sign several times, but it still didn't make any sense. Why would Charlie put his house up for auction? The only way that could happen is if Charlie were unable to pay the bills, or if he died and there were no heirs. Neither made sense because Edward knew from Charlie's thoughts that he was financially stable, and Edward had once heard Charlie musing about his will; Bella would get everything. Bella was the heir.
Sudden realization hit and Edward gasped.
Charlie was dead. Charlie was dead and Bella had inherited the property, but she couldn't pay the bills. The state had seized the property and was auctioning the house.
This was all so horrible. Though he hadn't known Charlie all that well, he knew that the Chief had been a good man. He had lived a simple, loving life. He made sure his town was safe (against human threats, anyway), he loved his daughter, and he fished on the weekends. He hadn't deserved to be abandoned by his wife like he was.
It began to rain.
He would find out what happened at the police station, from the people who knew Charlie best. Edward walked through the downpour, barely noticing the way the water soaked through everything he was wearing. It dripped from his nose and chin, but all Edward could think about was the heartache Bella was feeling wherever she was. First she had been rejected by an insensitive creep, and now her father was dead.
It rained harder.
Edward wrung out his shirt under an awning outside the police station. As soon as he was dry as he was ever going to get when it was raining like it was, he walked inside. The dispatcher took him in greedily. Her thoughts were the usual carnal fantasies, but Edward was too distracted to be annoyed or uncomfortable. He looked at the dispatcher meaningfully.
"Where is Deputy Steve's off…"
His voice trailed off into nothing. His eye had caught something on the wall to his right. It was there, above the desk with the pamphlets and flyers.
There were two of them.
Edward was frozen. He couldn't move. He couldn't breathe. He wanted to turn away, but all he could do was stare and will away what he was looking at.
But he had never been that powerful.
Bella's beautiful eleventh grade photo had been photocopied onto a piece of paper. Above it was the word MISSING in big, black letters. Below were the words:
Isabella "Bella" Marie Swan
Missing since (approx.) 3/7/06
Bella is believed to have vanished from her home in the late hours of 3/6 or the early hours of 3/7. If you have ANY information on her disappearance, please call the phone number below. Her family and friends appreciate any help in the search for Bella.
Edward numbly read the other poster. Charlie's good-natured face smiled at him. Like Bella's, his poster declared him MISSING.
Charles "Charlie" Swan
Missing since (approx.) 3/7/06
Charlie is believed to have vanished from his home in the late hours of 3/6 or the early hours of 3/7. If you have ANY information on his disappearance, please call the phone number below. His family and friends appreciate any help in the search for Charlie.
Edward knew that what he was feeling at the moment was called "nausea". He felt weak-kneed suddenly and gripped the table for support.
"Hey, are you okay?" The dispatcher stood up, unsure if Edward needed help. Edward nodded curtly.
"What—happened to these—two?" he asked. Though he was giving it his all to appear composed, his voice still came out strangled. The dispatcher eyed him warily.
"The posters tell everything we know. The Chief and his daughter just disappeared. They didn't take anything with them, not even their cars. There was no sign of a break in, so the rest of the police ruled out abduction." She went back to filing papers. "Just more cold cases," she murmured. "At least the bear business is over." Edward didn't miss that. He opened his mind to her thoughts.
No one is going to want to move here anymore, what with six unsolved murders and two disappearances. The game warden says the tracks were wrong for bears, but what got the hikers? I grew up by a national park and I know bear tracks. I think the cases are connected…somehow…
Edward caught a memory of a man, probably the game warden, showing her a photograph of a large animal print in the mud. Edward stiffened. He knew those tracks.
They were back. But they were humanity's "protectors". Why would they kill people in the woods?
Edward carefully folded the posters so that they would only get minimally wet in his hand and left the station. When he was in the woods, he began running towards the house by the river. Perhaps he would find answers there.
Four hours later, Edward was lying on the couch in the living room, staring at the wall. There was no Internet connection at his house anymore, and the recent discoveries were draining him of his will. Edward heard his family drive up, but did not move.
"Edward?" It was Jasper. No doubt he was feeling Edward's despair and confusion.
Oh God…what's happened? Did Bella kick him out?
Jasper hastily explained to the family what he sensed. "Edward's not well. Something's wrong."
Alice opened the door and rushed to Edward's side. "Edward, what happened? I didn't look for you, so you could have some privacy, but—"
Edward had dropped the posters to the floor. There really was nothing to say.
The rest of the Cullens had gathered around Edward, giving each other quizzical glances upon seeing his pathetic countenance. Carlisle picked up the posters and carefully unfolded them. He gasped, while Esme's eyes grew to the size of dinner plates. Carlisle passed the posters around. Emmett sat down and held his head in his hands, and Rosalie's face grew hard and blank. Alice and Jasper held each other.
Carlisle spoke first. "They've been gone for four months. That's far too long to hope for a trail." He sighed heavily. "But we have to do something."
Edward finally sat up. "There have been other disappearances. People are talking about a giant bear. The game warden says the tracks weren't bear tracks. He's right." He closed his eyes and massaged the bridge of his nose. He was incredibly rigid, his fear for Bella and his hate of werewolves battling for supremacy. "They were werewolf tracks. They were just like the ones we saw in the thirties." Jasper put his hand on Edward's shoulder to quell his spasm of panic and anger. Edward resumed staring into space, his thoughts and emotions swirling together until they were indiscernible.
Alice leafed through the ream of paper she had filched from the police station. It wasn't very big. "This is all the station had on the 'Swan case'."
The entire family was seated around the table in the dining room, waiting for Alice to continue. Everyone looked remarkably subdued. Alice handed Carlisle the sheet from the top of the file. "That's the first report. Charlie didn't go to work on Monday, and he didn't call in, which the people at the station thought was weird. When he didn't show up on Tuesday and nobody had seen him since Saturday, they sent a deputy over to see what was up."
To the casual observer, it would have seemed as if Edward was trying to pull out his hair. He was taking deep, steadying breaths and focusing on Alice's voice and not her words.
Alice handed Carlisle the file and let him go on. He quickly scanned it and frowned. "The deputy reported that nothing seemed out of place. There was no sign of a break-in or struggle of any kind. The only unusual thing he noticed was that the Swan's beds were unmade and each room had day clothes that weren't put away. The police hypothesized that the Swans had gone to bed and been awakened."
"Bella often put her clothes away the next morning if she were tired at night," Edward whispered.
Carlisle nodded. "Then we'll assume that whatever happened to them occurred in the middle of night. They were awakened from sleep." He flicked through the papers. "And that's pretty much all there is. Other than some medical records ." Bella was in a moderate catatonic stupor for a week last September. Edward hid his face in his hands. Catatonic…not moving, not seeing or hearing. Not thinking. Total and utter grief. His panic dulled for a moment while he tried to grasp just how much harm he had caused with his perfectly delivered cruelty.
Rosalie bit her lip while she thought of what to say. "We should probably try to meet with the werewolves." All she received were six blank stares. Rosalie's voice went up an octave. "Edward said there were other disappearances, and that people thought a bear might be behind them. The tracks were all wrong, too, right?" She looked down at her hands, which were folded demurely on the table. "And I hate to be the one to say it, but I think a vampire is involved somehow."
That got a reaction.
"No," Alice hissed defiantly.
"That's impossible," Emmett growled.
"It is not!" Rosalie said, loudly. She banged her fist on the table, leaving a large dent. "Missing people in the woods! Two people vanishing—without a trace—from their beds! This is classic vampire!" She huffed and continued, more quietly this time. "Also, a ranging vampire would explain why there were tracks near human remains. Vampires hide the bodies, but if one got interrupted during a meal…" She trailed off sadly.
"She's right," Jasper said sadly. "Before I…found Alice, I sometimes would go into people's houses. Normally I'd try to be discreet and hunt in the forest, but if I smelled a particularly…pleasant…scent…"
For the first time in eighty-eight years, a hair parted from Edward's scalp. He didn't notice.
Instead, Edward silently asked God to strike him dead right then and there.
The Cullens stood between the trees, peering intently into the dark forest. They were ten feet from the border of the Quileute reservation.
They were waiting for the werewolves.
Three hours before, Rosalie had found William Black's phone number at the top of a list of contacts in Charlie's case file. Carlisle remembered that Ephraim Black had been a member of the previous wolf pack in La Push and decided that William Black would be a good person to call.
"He's not really in the right shape to be a wolf," Emmett observed. "He's in a wheelchair. And there weren't any wolves when we moved here a couple of years ago."
"He has a son, Jacob," Edward said in a hollow voice. "He might be a wolf. Perhaps…He could smell me on Bella…at the prom…" He couldn't continue.
"Quiet, please," Carlisle ordered. He was dialing the Black residence. He waited for a moment. Someone picked up, and Carlisle spoke.
"Black residence," said the deep voice on the other end
"Is this William Black?"
"Yes, but I go by Billy. Who is this, please?"
"This is Dr. Carlisle Cullen."
A long pause.
"You're wondering about Charlie and Bella."
"As a matter of fact, I am. Would your son and his friends know anything about that?"
Another long pause.
"I'll put Jacob on the phone."
"Thank you, Billy. It means a lot to me."
Jacob had been reluctant to talk to Carlisle, but eventually Carlisle convinced Billy to let him talk to the alpha; Sam was far more level-headed. He agreed to meet with the Cullens at the border that night.
They heard the wolves before they smelled them. But when the thick odor hit them, they tensed, their fight-or-flight instincts flaring up. Alice wrinkled her nose in disgust.
A tall young man stepped out of the fog about ten yards away. His eyes were dark and vigilant. He had the look of a leader. He stopped walking about fifteen feet away from the Cullens.
"Which one of you is Carlisle?" he asked flatly. Carlisle stepped forward. The man nodded in recognition. "I am Sam Uley."
They examined each other speculatively. Without looking behind, Sam beckoned to people unseen in the fog. Another incredibly tall young man appeared, and then another. Ten in all appeared, including a young woman, each standing a little farther away than the one before them. A few of them were trembling lightly.
"What do you want to know?" Sam asked.
"What do you know about what happened to Charlie and Bella Swan?"
For the first time since they'd seen him, Sam's mask-like expression softened into one of sadness.
"It was in March. We were tracking a black-haired vampire who had been lurking around Forks."
Edward opened the floodgates of thoughts, and then he was there, in Sam Uley's memories.
What is the leech doing?
I swear; it's like he changed his mind about whatever he wanted to do.
His behavior is weird. Did he sense our presence?
The pack had been tracking the black-haired vampire for a week-and-a-half now. His strange, erratic patterns confounded Sam, and the confusion was unsettling. He liked to think that all vampires hunted and acted by one common instinct. They were just animals, after all.
I think he was feeling out the area.
The last consideration came from Jacob, the newest addition to the pack. Sam pondered this, and the idea made sense. The way the leech had constantly circled Forks, as though he were testing paths and finding strengths and weaknesses.
Vampires planning strategies. Creepy.
Maybe he's working with the other vampire.
Sam sincerely hoped not. They had caught a glimpse a few days ago of a total flame-head, a feral female who bolted so quickly that the wolves lost her trail a few minutes after chasing her. They hadn't seen her since.
But Lady Luck was with them, it seemed. They had sniffed out a fresh path that the man had made and were following it madly. Half an hour later, they were on top of him.
If they had been more observant, they would have noticed that they weren't even on the peninsula anymore. The dead leech had done whatever it needed to do and hit the road.
The wolves ran north, towards home and a hot meal. Emily had said something about beef and barley soup.
It was when they were at the edge of Forks that they smelled the new trail. It was the other vampire, the one with the freaky hair.
It—the male—it—oh shit! The other one was a decoy!
A dull, pounding dread filled Sam's chest.
When we catch up to the female, Jared and Paul go to the right. Jacob, you stay with me. Embry, try to go around and make sure she doesn't beat it.
Jacob's ears flicked forward.
What is that? I heard something.
I heard it too.
They all heard it then. Somewhere in the distance, someone was screaming.
They ran faster.
They could definitely hear it now. A young woman, judging by the pitch of the screams. She sounded like she was in terribly agony.
She's transforming! Embry's thoughts were wild.
Sam didn't agree. There was something horrible about these shrieks that made him suspect that this wasn't a transforming vampire.
The smell of blood filled their nostrils. A leap—a sprint through the trees—and a scene from Hell itself met their eyes.
The flame-head was standing over the form of a young woman. Blood was everywhere: smeared on the ground, up and down the leech's arms, and oozing from all over the human woman. She moaned, and Jacob recognized the woman.
Oh, holy Jesus, it's Bella!
She was the girl who had gone missing in the woods.
Sam saw flashes of memories: the woman in a beautiful blue gown, dancing with Jacob. The two of them talking happily on a beach. In a kitchen. Brown eyes staring into black… Before he could issue an order, Jacob sprang at the vampire. He was fast, but it was faster.
It grabbed Bella and held her high above her head by her neck. Bella weakly tried to pry the leech's hands loose; the bloodsucker squeezed harder. The message to the werewolves was clear: don't do anything stupid or the human dies.
The whole pack was growling by this point. They stood in a circle around the vampire. The damn leech wasn't going anywhere, but they couldn't do anything without risking hurting Bella…any more than she already was.
Sam took in Bella's mangled body. Her face, arms, and torso were gashed, probably from rock-hard fingers. Her right foot was sticking out at a strange angle, as though it had been twisted. Chunks of her hair were on the ground, and Sam shuddered at the thought of anyone having their hair pulled out of their scalp.
Sam had never hated vampires more.
Suddenly, in one swift motion, the female threw Bella away with the inhuman speed and strength of a vampire. Bella's body hit a pine tree with a sickening thud, and crumpled at the base. It didn't take superhuman senses to know that she was dead.
Sam didn't even see Jacob jump on the vampire so quickly did he attack. There was a furious moment of tearing and snapping, and then the leech was gone.
Who was she?
Bella. Oh, my God. Bella.
The dead girl, you fucking moron.
Hey, I just—
Shut up. Everyone just shut up.
Sam always could hush everyone up.
The pack watched in silence as Jacob gently nudged Bella's body. His thoughts revealed that he held a tiny flickering hope that she was alive, but the smell of death was already settling in. Jacob carefully brushed his paws over her eyes, closing them forever.
Then he threw back his head and howled.
Jasper couldn't stop Edward's waves of anguish, but he could calm everyone else down a little bit.
Sam had finished telling the story. His voice was down to a whisper by the end. He pointed southeast. "We buried Bella in there, by the tree where she died. We could take you to the grave if you like. We don't know where Charlie is buried, but we figure it's under a tree near the house. The vampire must have killed him before grabbing Bella."
Edward couldn't take being still any longer. He turned and ran into the dark forest. None of the Cullens, nor the wolves, followed.
Esme sank to her knees and sobbed tearlessly. Carlisle could not look at his family.
Rosalie studied her shoes. "I can't say I really liked her, but she didn't deserve that," she whispered hoarsely. Emmett held her, his own body shaking from the violence of his grief and anger.
Alice and Jasper sat down in the mud, both at a loss for words.
"We'll be going, then," Sam said. He surveyed the Cullens one last time. "I've heard that Bella was close to your family once upon a time. I'm sorry that we couldn't save her."
The young man named Jacob shuddered violently. Sam looked at him swiftly and motioned for the rest of the pack to leave.
"I've been wondering, though, why did the female target Bella like that?"
He waited for a full thirty seconds for one of them to answer, but the Cullens were unreachable. He turned and sprinted away into the forest.
Eventually the Cullens stood up, leaning on each other for support. All except Alice. She was on the ground still, her mind thousands of miles away, in a vision of future weather.
Volterra would see sunny skies tomorrow.