A/N: this is just a silly idea that didn't let me go for quite a while. A few spoilers for Twilight, but I'm guessing you wouldn't be here if you haven't read it yet... Dedicated to Flo, who's given me a crash course in chess for the sake of this piece.
The slow afternoon wasn't a big surprise to anyone at the station. We sort of expected it, considering the way the morning dragged. Even the phone calls lessened with each passing hour. About five card games and dozens of coffee cups later, I decided to do what I had not done in years and left two hours before the end of my shift.
Driving home was an eventless routine. My favorite radio station played oldies from the 50s and 60s and I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel in synch with the music. The weather was gorgeous all day, almost not a single cloud in the sky. It was still cold, but when wasn't it cold up here? At least it hadn't been raining all day. My thoughts wandered to Bella, and to her resentment for the generic weather of Forks. An involuntary smile crept on my lips when I thought of my only daughter. I sure hoped she made the best out of the weather.
And then I remembered whom she was probably with, and my smile slowly faded. My eyes narrowed in spite of myself. I didn't know what it was about Edward Cullen that unnerved me. Maybe it was the way Bella had a tendency to get in trouble – well, bigger trouble than usual – in matters that normally involved him. I didn't care if he was the reason she came back from Phoenix; he was the reason she ran back there in the first place, the reason she was injured. They only took her cast off two weeks ago. Healing was slow, but she was making a good progress. He took it on himself to help her, and boy, was he keeping his word. He was her entire world, this much was easy to see, even for a fairly oblivious guy like me, but I also knew how wrong it was. She was too young to get stuck with someone for life. She needed to go out more, hang out with friends, be a normal teenager…
It had suddenly dawned on me that she wasn't a normal teenager. The saying 'like father, like daughter' evaded in my mind, hitting me full force, and I tried to shake it off guiltily. It was sort of my fault that she was the way she was. Some example I was for her.
And so we were stuck with Cullen. They had spent the entire summer together, except for a few days when he went away with his family every other week or so. And even in those days… it was as if someone had turned off the lights in our house. Bella seemed so… lost without him, not hopelessly lost, just sort of distant and lonely. It was heart-wrenching to watch. So many times I found myself plotting to go and talk to her, explain how unhealthy this sort of relationship was for her, try to convince her to see other people, but each and every time I chickened out. Talking with law breakers and dangerous criminals was easier than confronting my desperately-in-love 17-year-old kid. It was laughable.
It was three days ago when she eventually confronted me. Edward was just leaving, and I was shamelessly eavesdropping on their goodbye from the living-room. A part of me was trying to find something, anything, any flaw in his behavior, to use as evidence against him if I brewed enough courage to talk to her. But of course, he was as chivalrous as ever. A perfect gentleman. He didn't even kiss her goodnight.
She joined me in the living-room later. By then, my attention was back on the TV. I hoped to pass it as an intent watching of the game, but it was commercial time. I sighed inwardly. "Are you off to bed?" I asked her feigning interest. I was really trying not to dwell on the way her eyes sort of sparkled as if he had kissed her goodnight.
"Yeah, in a bit," she replied. I nodded and looked away. Yeah, that way it was definitely easier. "You can at least try, Dad."
Her comment, so hesitant and so quiet, caught me off-guard. "What are you talking about?"
"You don't like Edward. It's not a big secret, and it's okay, no one expects you to. But he's here to stay, so you can try to play nice and save the awkwardness from everyone."
Was that my daughter speaking? It was the longest, most straight-forward speech I had ever heard from her. Was that what I was doing? Or was she over-observant? "I… didn't realize I wasn't playing nice."
She laughed once, in frustration it seemed. "You hardly said two words to him all evening."
"I was under the impression he came to see you, not me." What did she want me to do? Did she expect me to admit my mistakes? Did she expect me to apologize?
"Please, Dad? He is… important… to me," she said, her cheeks flushing bright pink at this admittance. "I'm not asking you to like him…" Like you do? "Just… please be nice. You're nice enough when Alice comes over."
"You're not dating Alice," I muttered, but she didn't seem to catch it. "I'll give it my best efforts," I promised. The relief on her face was instant. I knew it would take much more than that to actually carry out the promise, but I was determined to try.
But in the next couple of days I hadn't seen him. Not that he wasn't with her those days, hell no. On the first day after our, erm, conversation, I was working until late and he was just leaving when I pulled into the driveway. I waved at him from inside the car, proud of myself for this tiny progress. Then the next day Bella was invited to dinner at his place, and on the third she and Alice headed for Port Angeles for a movie, and I only saw his car as they gave her a ride home. So maybe someone up there was on my side, helping me stall the inevitable.
Or maybe not…
My forehead cringed involuntarily when his Volvo blocked my usual parking spot, right after her truck. Usually Edward moved his car out of my space just as I pulled from around the bend. It was almost as if he had a sixth sense about my arrival. I guessed they weren't counting on me to come home so soon. I parked further down the path and walked towards the house. It was quiet, but their cars at the driveway suggested they were inside. My mind suddenly filled with visions of what they might be doing that they were unaware of my arrival; I actually shivered in horror, but then I shook my head, knowing my daughter was better – and smarter – than that. Still, I felt very sneaky to walk in on them, but that was silly. It was my house.
I could hear him now as I approached the front door. His voice carried in the air, melodious, almost hypnotic. I rolled my eyes as I refastened the latch on the door.
And then I froze.
"… I love you so much more now than twenty minutes ago that there cannot be comparison."
The crease in my forehead deepened. What the hell?
"I love you so much more now than when you opened your hovel door, there cannot be comparison."
I suspected that the boy was weird before. Now I was certain of it. But it was my daughter he was saying these crazy, overdramatic words to. I suddenly had the urge to hurry into the living-room – from which his voice came from – and grab her away from this old-fashioned freak.
"There is no room in my body for anything but you."
At that, my hands clenched around my weapon, and I stepped determinedly into the living-room.
Two pairs of eyes looked up at me, one more horrified than the other. Edward didn't seem the least surprised to see me standing there. His expression remained composed as he closed the book – from which he was reading, apparently – he had in his hands. Bella, whose head was resting against his lap, no less, let out a startled gasp as she straightened up, anything but crushing on the floor. My eyes lingered on them for a moment longer, taking in the scene to which I had interrupted. The position was innocent enough, and yet there was something so intimate about it; it infuriated me.
"Dad! You're home early," said Bella, her voice still shaky with surprise and embarrassment. She nudged Edward's ribs then, a tiny motion that was probably supposed to pass unnoticed on my side.
"Yeah, things were slow today, so I thought I'd take the afternoon off."
"I'll go and move my car for you, Chief Swan," said Edward, getting up.
"Why thank you, Edward, that's very… thoughtful of you," I replied, catching Bella's pleading eyes. Oh yes. Play nice. "How come you kids aren't outside? It's finally sunny, I thought you'd want to spend some time on the beach," I commented once Edward was out of hearing range.
"Oh, we were outside, for a while. And then we decided to get back here."
But there was this uncomfortable edge to her voice, and she was hardly looking at me. Was she still embarrassed I caught them the way I did? Well, technically they weren't doing anything… I shook my head furiously. Do not think about it!
"I'll start on dinner for you," she said, cutting my reverie short.
"Did you eat?"
"No, I think we're going out later." That would be the third night in a row. As if she noticed the troubled shadow that crossed my eyes, she added hesitantly, "Unless you prefer I stayed home tonight…?"
"No, no, that's fine. You go and have fun, this is what summer vacation is for!" I hope the edge to my voice wasn't as clear as it sounded to me, well-hidden behind the cheerfulness.
And then he was back. "All yours, sir," he said, flashing an irresistible smile at me like he expected it to have some affect on me. Huh. As if.
I left them then to get my cruiser parked in its rightful spot, still grumbling to myself. I still couldn't get over what I was walking in on. They looked so comfortable around each other. It was something you normally saw with people who had been married for years, and hardly even then, surely not with teenagers. On the one hand, I was happy for Bella, happy that she had found someone she loved, and seemed to love her in return. On the other hand… I sort of resented her choice. With no apparent reason, too. I liked Carlisle, and although I met his wife briefly, she seemed like a nice woman. There was no reason why their kids would be different. We never had problems with any of the Cullen boys in town. And Edward was every mother's dream. He was polite and respectful, and he cared for Bella, more than I probably cared to admit. It was more than that. It was almost as if he worshipped the ground she stood on. It was almost terrifying. I had never seen anything so intense.
Would I have felt differently if it was some other guy? Newton's boy, or Jacob Black? I wasn't sure. Maybe it was a part of being the overprotective father of an only daughter, and a beautiful one as well. Maybe it was just common. It was hard to remember she wasn't my little girl anymore, that she was hardly even a girl. Damn, she was going to be 18 in about 3 weeks. That alone was inconceivable.
They were working in the kitchen when I came back in the house. Bella was wandering about, pulling stuff out of the fridge and the cupboards, setting the oven in the right temperature. Edward was chopping something off on the counter. I frowned. And the boy could cook. Wonderful. The change in Bella's behavior was remarkable when she was around him. There was something very stiff about the way she carried herself when she was alone, as if she was trying to make herself invisible, as if a part of her had gone missing. And around him… she was so at ease. It was like they completed one another.
I tore my eyes away from them when I realized she was watching me. But she kept looking at me persistently, and I understood where she was going with it. "So, Edward, how's your dad?"
He half-turned to acknowledge my question, still chopping. "Carlisle is well, thank you."
"That's good," I murmured. That didn't do much good. What was I supposed to talk to him about? Football? He didn't seem much into sports; he was too lanky and fragile-looking. I bet he thought a night of poetry reading was far more fascinating than watching the final game of the season. "What were you guys up to today?"
"I was trying to teach Bella how to play chess."
I laughed. I couldn't help it. Lord knows I'd tried to do that for years. "Any luck with that?"
"Not really, no."
"It's too slow," Bella complained.
"It can be," Edward agreed, and a secret smile which I couldn't interpret passed between them.
"You know, Charlie plays really well," Bella said then, looking from him to me. "Maybe you two should play."
What?! "I don't know, Bells, it's been a while since I've played…"
"Come on, Dad, don't be so modest. Besides, you can play until dinner is ready. I need to sort out some stuff here anyway." She wriggled her eyebrow at me behind Edward's back and shot me another pleading look, obviously reminding me of my promise. Ugh. I honestly wasn't sure of my chess abilities, but how bad can it be? I had years of experience behind me; I started playing when I was their age. Surely it couldn't be that bad, could it?
"I don't even know where the chess set is," I said in a pathetic last attempt to get myself out of it.
"It's on the coffee table," said Bella, looking all sorts of hopeful now.
There was nothing else to do but surrender. "I'll go fetch it then."
The living-room was just how they left it. The book from which they were reading laid deserted on the couch. I stole a glance at the cover. The Princess Bride. I rolled my eyes. I should have known.
The chess set was just where Bella said it would be, frozen in mid-game, and I gathered the pieces as slowly as I could before I stepped back into the kitchen reluctantly. They both looked up as I did, and Edward smiled at me. He seemed thrilled.
"So, Edward, how long have you been playing?"
"My father taught me how to play when I was 15."
Hmm. That gave him about 2 years of experience, if he played regularly. I could only hope Carlisle wasn't as good at this game as I suspected he was. I settled the board on the kitchen table and handed Edward the black pieces as I settled my white pieces on their starting points on the board.
The game started as those games usually did, slowly and carefully. I stared at my pieces studiously, and Edward was doing the same. None of us spoke; the only background noise was Bella's dinner preparations. I took a few of his pieces off the board; he took a few of mine. And then, while he was calculating his next move, I suddenly saw it. If I only moved my bishop that way, I might block his king. Hmm. I was so intense on that thought, that his sudden move from across the table startled me.
He moved his king farther away from my bishop.
I narrowed my eyes at him. He didn't even notice; he was staring at the board intently. The game progressed with some more insignificant moves, and it had suddenly dawned on me that Bella was right. It was slow. I had a feeling it was mostly due to my dislike of my opponent. My stomach grumbled, and I was wondering if Bella was deliberately stalling dinner just so I could have some quality time with her boyfriend.
A boyfriend that had just escaped another 'check'. Damnit.
Did he have a special technique, or was he just extremely lucky? He seemed to know what he was doing. I had to admit he did have some brilliant moves in store. When he acted, it was with confidence. He never hesitated while making his moves. He was completely still when he thought them over. I realized my fears came true; Carlisle taught him well.
And if I had similar luck with my own child, she would have played against him now, not me.
"Check." I blinked, and realized that thanks to my mental grumbling, he was about to take my king. Oh no. I would not be beaten by a kid, no way. I scanned the board quickly, and made my move incredibly fast. Edward raised an eyebrow. "Impressive, Charlie."
I wasn't sure if I was supposed to take it as a compliment or an insult. I narrowed my eyes at him again, but he seemed unaffected, already planning his next move.
The game continued, and I was losing pieces just as quickly as he was losing his. To my great annoyance, he managed to escape yet another 'check'. It was as if he foresaw my moves, not that I could see how he would. His face remained sealed and calm. I could bet his expression was not reflecting my own. If Bella was expecting this game to become our bonding time, she was dead wrong. Instead of getting to like him for sharing at least one of my interests, I felt my dislike increasing with every piece of mine he had taken off the board. How could he play so well with only two years of practice behind him was beyond me. I blamed my distraction on my hunger. Seriously, this was going on for far too long; what time was it?
"So who's beating whom?" Bella asked suddenly, laying an encouraging hand against my shoulder. "Not that I'll know, of course, so feel free to lie to me."
"We can stop if dinner's ready," I replied hopefully, deliberately avoiding her question.
"15 more minutes," she said, turning her back on me to stir something on the fire. Whatever it was, it smelled great. My stomach grumbled in protest. Oh, the agony.
"Your turn, Charlie."
I studied the board. It didn't look promising. I thought I was losing miserably, but I wasn't sure; his fast, graceful moves sort of dazzled me. I could try and take his queen, but there was another chance for 'check' there at the corner of the board. I could try and block him, but he would outrun me again. And my positions didn't look that great. Ugh, what the hell. I moved one of my knights towards his king. For a few intense moments, everything else was gone. There was nothing I wanted more than beating him. It was no more than a stupid whim, wanting to beat my daughter's boyfriend, as if it proved anything, and still I couldn't let it go. The problem was that he seemed to share this thought with me. Whenever I moved, wherever I moved, he was there, blocking me.
I anticipated the 'checkmate' a mil-second before he brought his knight up to execute the move.
"Right, dinner's ready," Bella's voice, light and oblivious, had never sounded sweeter. My daughter, my savior. Edward sat back with what sounded like a frustrated huff. Unfortunately, she seemed to catch it. "Unless you guys want to keep playing…?"
I nearly whimpered in protest. He seemed to notice, and shook his head. "I won't keep your father from his dinner. Good game though, Charlie."
Now there was definitely an insult. "You too, kid." I couldn't get the bitterness out of my tone. And then, although it had taken many efforts, I managed, "We should do it again sometime."
"Yes, we certainly should," he said. I was wondering if he was just trying to be polite. Then he glanced at his wrist watch. "Bella, we should probably get going," he said, smiling apologetically at me. "Esme is expecting us for dinner, I'd hate to keep her waiting."
I was more than willing to send him on his way. "Sure, sure, you kids go ahead."
But Bella didn't follow him as she would normally do. Instead, she hesitated. "I'll be right there, okay?"
Edward gave her a confused look, but nodded. "I'll be in the car." Then he left, not before he wished me a good evening. I swore under my breath.
To my surprise, Bella didn't stay behind to fetch a jacket or her purse as I thought she meant to do; instead, she came over to me and placed a kiss on the top of my head. "Thanks, Daddy," she whispered and ran off.
My heart melted, in spite of myself. She had never called me Daddy before.
Final A/N - yes, I realize the end is slightly OOC on Bella's side (I actually sat and debated with myself whether or not she'd do that), but it looked appropriate for this tiny father-daughter moment. Thanks for reading - reviews make me uber happy!