A/N: Many thanks to my new beta, chayasara, for all her hard work fixing my misplaced comma's and shit.

Disclaimer: I'm no one - just using some characters someone else created and got rich off of and made them into something else and am using them for a story.

Charlie in Charge

Legacy-verse: Charlie flashes back to his relationship with Renee and removing Bella from her care in Arizona.

October 1996

Arizona.

What a godforsaken state. It contained cactus, blinding sun, and intense heat – three things that I was definitely not used to, having lived my life in Washington state.

But I would brave the unusual elements to get Bella to safety. My heart broke last night when I answered the phone and heard her in tears.

"Daddy, I don't like Phil."

Yeah, neither did I. Some children were excellent radars for seeing the good and bad in people. Kind of like the dogs that could sniff out bombs or drugs or cancer. You didn't know how the hell the skill ever found them, but it came in handy.

I hadn't liked Phil the first time I had met him, not that he gave me much of a reason to like him. I had found him in bed with my then-wife Renee. Our bed.

And they were both as high as kites, naked as jaybirds with a bong sitting on my nightstand.

At twenty-eight years old, I had been married for five rocky years. It had been rough from the start. Renee and I went too far, too fast. Renee was a free spirit, which I originally adored, but I was far too wrapped up in lust to realize just how much of a free spirit. Two weeks after we first slept together, Renee told me that she was pregnant.

I wasn't stupid. I knew the baby couldn't be mine.

I didn't care. I was in love; at least I thought I was.

I thought that since Renee loved me I could love her and her baby. We could make it work. We married almost as quickly as we fell into bed. It wasn't long before I realized how much of a mistake and how incompatible Renee and I were.

But then Bella was born.

The fact that I had solely named her should've been another light bulb above my head. Renee didn't care what her name was – she kept calling her "baby" or "the baby" all the time.

There was no way in hell that I was going to put the name "Baby" on a birth certificate. We were not in a movie. When I asked her if she liked the name Isabella, she had shown indifference, rolled over, and gone to sleep.

Isabella it was, after my dear grandmother.

I foolishly thought that parenthood would somehow change Renee, make her responsible and focused. How wrong I had been. Renee didn't work but would leave for hours at a time with no explanation. And sometimes she left for days. When she came back, she offered no explanations, and I stopped expecting to hear any.

The day that I had found Renee and Phil together in our bed was the last straw. I gathered their clothes and not caring if tongues wagged in town, physically threw them out on the porch. Two days later, Renee came back with a thinly veiled apology and flying high on drugs.

I threw her out. Again.

A month later she returned, clean and sober. At least it appeared that way. Looking back, I should've been tougher, made her take a drug test. Something. I let her take her daughter.

Though she was not mine, I had loved Bella like she was my own. I regretted my decision every day that she wasn't with me. Renee tried to stay in Forks but wasn't very successful in her endeavor. She often knocked on my door during late hours, dropping Bella off for me to watch with no idea of when she'd be back.

It wasn't right. I should have done more.

A year and a half ago, Renee broke the news that she and Phil were moving to Arizona. I had gone from seeing Bella at least once a week, if not more, to only speaking to her on the phone and seeing her during the summer.

"Daddy, I don't like Phil."

"What's wrong, honey?"

"He tried to touched me."

"What do you mean, honey?"

"It was a bad touch like you taught me."

It killed me that I had to ask her more detailed questions.

"Has he ever done this before?"

Bella's voice was shaky on the other end. "Yes."

I had to reassure her that everything was going to be okay when I hadn't been sure it would be.

"I don't want to live here," she sniffed. "Mommy is acting funny again. I don't like it here. Please, daddy, can I live you with you?"

Renee was using again.

"You hang on, Bella, I'll be there soon."

"Should I wait on the porch?"

"No, honey, I have to take an airplane, remember?" I smiled in spite of the events unfolding. "You can pack your little suitcase though, okay? I'll be there soon; don't you worry."

That was last night, and not even twenty-four hours later, I was in Arizona, standing in front of Renee and Phil's rundown-looking rental. As I made my way toward the porch, the front door flew open. Bella came running out, suitcase in her hand before she dropped it at my feet.

"Daddy!"

I scooped her up into my arms and held her tightly. "I told you I'd be here. I always keep my promises to you."

Her little arms wrapped around my neck and refused to let go. "Can we go now, please?"

"I have to talk to your mother first."

"They're sleeping."

"At two o'clock in the afternoon?" I wondered out loud.

"They were awake all night, and they were so loud," she said. "I couldn't sleep, but I locked my bedroom door."

This was no life for a five-year-old. "Why don't you take your suitcase and wait by the car, okay?"

Bella went over to the rental car and waited, suitcase held tightly in her hand, little brown eyes squinting from the afternoon sun.

The odor hit me as soon as I stepped inside the house. The stench was beyond horrible. The entire house was a mess with garbage strewn everywhere. I spotted drug paraphernalia scattered throughout the house. I could've run with Bella and never look back, but if Renee ever noticed that her daughter was missing, I could've been brought up on kidnapping charges. Nope, this needed to be done the right way.

Winding my way through the house, I found the bedroom where Renee and Phil had passed out. Oh, look… another bong. When I had first met Phil, he claimed to be a player in minor league baseball. He couldn't have been, not with his drug use. He wouldn't even qualify to be a t-ball coach.

I kicked the bed, but neither of them moved. I kicked it again. And again. And again. Renee twitched and then moaned. Rolling over, she blindly reached for the bong on the nightstand. With it mere centimeters from her reach, I snatched it away and threw the object at the wall over the headboard of the bed. It shattered upon impact, the glass flying onto the two bodies below it.

"What the fuck?" Renee shot up, her expression half asleep and full of confusion until it registered who was standing in front of her. "Charlie? What are you doing here?"

"I'm taking my daughter home."

"No, you're not." Renee nudged Phil, but he didn't move. "Phil! Wake up! Charlie's here and he's trying to take Bella!"

"I'm not 'trying to take her,' Renee. I am taking her." Phil rolled over and blinked. "I should have never let you take her away from me."

"Charlie, man, did you come to party?" Phil sat up slowly, sniffing. "I need a hit."

I balled my right fist. "You're going to get a hit all right."

"He wants Bella," Renee said, her voice now exhibiting fake panic. "You have to stop him."

Phil looked at me and then at Renee. "I don't care. Let him take the little bitch."

And that was when he got his hit. I don't remember approaching the bed. I don't remember the first contact, but I remember the last. It was my fist in his eye.

Renee sat cowering at the headboard. I sat down near her, reached out and grabbed her chin, making her look at me and not at Phil. "You never wanted her, Renee. I know I'm not her biological father, but my name is on her birth certificate. I am going to take her back home where she can have a good life. You will be getting papers that you will sign, and the courts will give me sole custody of my daughter. If you fight any of this, I will tell the courts about your drug use and how Phil tried to molest Bella. You'll both end up behind bars. Do you understand?" My voice had been stern and unwavering. Renee continued to stare at me in disbelief, but she didn't offer an answer. "Do you understand?"

Renee started to cry. "You're right," she said. "I never wanted her."

"No, you didn't."

"I should've had an abortion."

"I'm glad you didn't." I wouldn't have that beautiful little girl who was standing outside waiting for me if she had. "Do you understand what I said?"

"Yes, take her," she said, "I'll sign whatever you send me."

Before I left the house, I searched in vain for ice in the freezer for my hand. The damn thing was empty. I washed my hand of blood – mine or Phil's I wasn't sure – and even though there was a dish towel on the counter, I dried my hands on my jeans. I didn't trust what might've been on that towel.

Bella stood obediently, waiting for me by the car. "We're ready to go now!" I said enthusiastically, plastering a smile on my face for her benefit. "Are you sure that's everything you need?" I asked, pointing at her suitcase.

"Some clothes and my dolly."

The trip home went smoothly, even though it had seemed to take forever. I was not chased by police or accused of kidnapping a child. Renee was stupid, but she wasn't that stupid. While on the final leg of our trip, I detoured from going right home. It was now early morning, but I found myself parked in the Cullen's driveway. I tried not to wake Bella while getting her out of the car and carried her to the door with me. Knocking, I knew at least Carlisle or Esme had to be home.

The door opened and I found myself face to face with Esme. "Charlie! How nice to see you! I didn't know that Bella was coming for a visit."

"It's not a visit." I spoke barely above a whisper as Bella squirmed in my arms. "Can I come in?"

Esme welcomed me inside, and we placed Bella on the couch and then joined Carlisle in the kitchen. I explained to them, in vivid detail, about what had transpired.

"Do you still have a lawyer on retainer?" I asked.

Carlisle nodded. "You need to borrow Percy?"

"If he can work cheap." I traced the rim of the coffee mug sitting in front of me with a finger. "I need to get sole custody of Bella."

"Charlie, no need to worry about the court costs," Carlisle smiled kindly at me. "You need this. Hell, Bella needs this. We'll make it happen."

Emmett and Alice had wandered down the stairs, rubbing their eyes and asking for breakfast. When Alice had learned that Bella was sleeping on the couch, she ran over and woke her up. I smiled at the two of them eating pancakes, syrup dripping off their chins. Emmett, still hungry, stole one of Bella's pancakes and she proceeded to cry. I smiled and knew that with Carlisle's declaration, Esme's kindness, Alice's enthusiasm, and Emmett's big heart, Bella and I had found friends for life.