A/N: Hello, everyone! As promised, the second part of the chapter is up.
It has come to my attention that there were some changes to the text's format, specifically the breaks that outlined the flashbacks, which are now gone. I'm terribly sorry if it took away from the experience of reading thus far, and promise to go back and correct it all.
Pippapear has always been so much more than an amazing friend, and yet there's an infinite sweetness in being able to refer to her as such.
"I broke the treaty," my boyfriend admitted.
He most certainly hadn't harmed anyone - which left only one other possibility. I had no idea whyEdward had risked going to La Push, but, as eager as I was to find out, I knew that to be a conversation best had between the two of us.
"And you could very well have started a war."
Carlisle wasn't being strict or harsh - it didn't fit in with his nature. But the one thing he cared the most for in the world, his family, had been threatened; that crossed even the good doctor's limits.
I sat quietly through the rest of the tense journey, letting my mind drift to the practical aspects of the searches.
That rainy night, concerned townspeople of Forks and Port Ludlow conveyed at a landmark diner to go over the plans with the law enforcement officers. Arriving early, we weren't surprised to see dozens and dozens gradually filling up the place to its capacity and beyond, expressions packed with hope and dread in various amounts.
It was pitch dark outside the warm diner when Mr and Mrs Newton finally came in, with all the nervous energy, anxiety and desperation of parents that had lost their baby.
It broke my heart to see them suffer.
But, worse, it broke my heart to see them hope, for I knew there was nothing good to hope for. And I wished then that I could pull them aside and tell them the truth, as much as I wished for the truth to be delayed as much as humanly possible.
Maps were taken out and laid out over tabletops. Heated discussions about where the boy had disappeared and where he was most likely to be found were had amongst the eldest and wisest, and those who somehow inserted themselves in one of the two categories.
A muted voice suggested the searches should be conducted as if the boy was already dead. Edward and Carlisle stayed silent and stoic as blocks of stone with piercing eyes, observing as the roar of outrage swept the small establishment and a table was thrown over. From my advantage point, I couldn't quite make it out, but I could almost be sure that it had been Mr Newton.
As we made our way to the small B&B that night, under windswept rain, Carlisle's mood had sunk.
"The area they mapped out for the searches tomorrow isn't anywhere near the place Alice pointed out to me... And I can't stray that far from the assigned areas. It would look too suspicious."
"We can't wait much longer," Edward pointed out. "In this weather, decay and wild animals will..."
He broke off, shifting closer to me and tugging me into a close embrace, my head under his chin and his strong arm around my shoulders as we walked, dripping, under the curved entrance to the quaint bed and breakfast.
Our stance was certainly too intimate for a public display in my boyfriend's eyes, but I felt the need for closeness radiating from his frame. The need to tuck me in his arms, frail and human as I was, and make sure I was safe, protected - that what had happened to Mike would never happen to me.
And though I knew it was perfectly irrational to feel that way, I feared for him too.
Carlisle's mouth twisted briefly in a conspiratorial smile before excusing himself to his own room; he needed to check in with the hospital and with Alice.
I was guided by Edward to a door further down the hall, and was surprised to find twin beds when it opened.
Still holding me, I felt him fidget.
"I'm guessing there were no other rooms available?" I whispered, taking in the wide window and the clean, warm-smelling room, white plaster and old wood.
"Actually, they did, I just..."
I twisted in his arms, staring up at his face, ripe with embarrassment, and pulled myself up for a languorous kiss, unsatisfied with the bulky clothes that parted us.
"Thank you," I breathed into his mouth, not quite knowing how I would cope if I had to spend the night on my own, and feeling immersed by the sweetness of the infinitely more enticing prospect of spending it with him.
And I was so very tired. I hadn't slept at all the night before - too caught up in Mike's disappearance, we'd driven to the Cullen's and were there until dawn, talking of what to do and trying to calm Alice down. And after such a long, trying day, all I could think of was resting. Just not alone - not without Edward.
I shed the heavy coat, the scarf and gloves; my sweater followed soon after, leaving me in a thin shirt, jeans and boots.
Edward's embarrassment was tainted by something else entirely as I moved to open his jacket as well, snuggling inside it in an instinctive search for comfort and warmth, even if I'd only find one of them.
If I could, I would have crawled under his skin.
Without saying another word, I half-walked, half-tugged him all the way to the bed closest to the window, lying down on the thick, almost coarse sheets that I only felt for a second - before Edward's arms were wrapped around me and his body was as close to mine as it could get, over the clothes we still had on.
"You'll be cold in the morning," he whispered to me, brushing his lips over my forehead, his only attempt at modesty. His hair was damp and smelled of rain.
"The cold would be worse without you," I answered, hoping he'd understand. Seconds later, I whispered "Why did you go to La Push?"
The vampire busied himself with my hair, twirling it in his fingers as he answered.
"Quilleutte teenagers started shifting two years ago, shortly after we moved here. I felt uneasy, that Saturday morning in October, knowing you'd be going there and having no means to warn you. I couldn't even pinpoint whyit was so important to me, at the time. But nothing had me feeling as uneasy as when I watched you come home, looking worn and afraid and just sensing that something had happened, not having my gift to rely on. When I realized the lights just wouldn't go off in your house, the next day, it got worse. Suddenly, you left - and it was sheer panic.
"I was never proud of watching you from afar, but that night I did something not even my father can forgive me for. I followed you to La Push and I did not breathe until I saw you come up for air and get back to the car. And even though no one from the pack - no one at all, in fact - was close by... I needed to be there and make sure you got home safely. I'm so very sorry for taking advantage of whatI am and violating your privacy and space."
The sincere admission and apology rang through my bones; Edward was genuinely dreading my reaction, as justified as it was - for he had followed me, seen meas naked and raw as could be. I'd been dripping wet and freezing, fighting with myself and my fears not to leave Forks after Jacob recognized me.
But, at the moment, it did not matter.
The heart of the matter was he'd left behind thoughts of his own safety - and his family's - and thought only of me, at that moment. How unselfishly had he prioritized the selfish want, desire, need for my safety, for my well being, my very existence.
I understood it well. I felt it too.
Just then, 24 hours too late, I realized, I had an admission of my own to make.
Pulling back just enough to look him in the eye, I finally told him:
"I love you, too."
My voice carried this promise strongly, and I saw it again - that brilliant, precious shade of green taking over his eyes, so fleetingly I doubted my own eyesight.
Exhaustion took over me as I twisted my body to fit his seamlessly, falling asleep contentedly in the beauty of his touch, his scent, his breath, all of which carried the warmth his body could not provide.
Morning came all too soon.
I woke up alone, my boots missing, but otherwise still dressed. Edward sat on the other bed, concerned yet loving; Carlisle had already left for the searches, since the local police had been more adamant in enforcing an age limit.
Truth was, his influence here was close to none at all. In fact, Edward had picked up on the fact that most policemen were rather intimidated by him.
At breakfast, I felt the benefits of a good night's rest, and pushed away - regretting so, but necessarily - the thoughts of the words exchanged with my boyfriend.
"What should we do today?" he asked me, forcefully chipper.
I frowned at my coffee.
"There's nothing we can do to help, Bella, we might as well try and get it all out of our minds, for a couple of hours."
My frown deepened. It was something he said.
"There's not necessarily true," I countered.
"What do you mean?"
Edward looked up, confused, as I gulped the rest of my coffee and moved to leave the nearly deserted breakfast room.
"Alice saw where Mike is. She never said anything about who would find him."
"But it can't be us..." he whispered as we got up, catching on to my train of thought. "How suspicious would it be? We can't atract that kind of attention, you know that."
"It's every bit as suspicious as Carlisle finding him. You said it yourself, the sooner the better," I argued, already slipping into my coat. "I want to do this. I want to give his parents peace of mind. They deserve to know."
Edward pursed his lips but didn't fight me; Alice called as we made our way there, giving us a cover story that involved a nearby hiking trail. I was spared from actually seeing the body, as all I had to do was wait in the car while my vampire took my boots and his time engineering a perfect set of twin trails through the middle of the woods before calling the police.
And no one suspected anything.
We were all but ushered out of there, spared the questions and the scolding since everyone understood how traumatized we probably were after finding our dead classmate.
It was late at night when Carlisle joined us at the B&B, looking somber and, it if were possible, tired. Every second of his hundreds of years walking the Earth seemed to take its tow on him at once, and he looked like the ancient vampire I so seldom thought of him as.
"Carlisle..." Edward warned, impatient. His father was undoubtedly blocking his ability. "What did you find?"
"Official cause of death was exsanguination. I worked closely with the local coroner. He was pretty shaken," the blond doctor revealed, sitting across from me and my boyfriend in our small room. "Enough so to happily delegate the task of examining the wounds. I declared it the result of an animal attack."
Edward's back straightened infinitesimally, and I knew something was wrong.
"And unofficially?" I asked, the only one in the room who still had any doubts about how Mike Newton had died.
"He was killed by vampires who couldn't even be bothered to properly dispose of the body. The shape of the bite marks told me they were at least two. The attack itself... was very violent. Savage, even."
None of us said another word for a very long time. Edward held me tightly in his arms the whole night, and he was still in my bed when I woke up.
Michael Newton's wake and funeral were a sad affair.
The whole town had been scared to find him missing, but shocked beyond belief that he'd been found dead.
Angela, having known him since kindergarten, insisted on attending; I decided to accompany her for support.
The Cullen family was also there, and to see all of them made me realize what they had, in fact, began to mean to me, for I knew their show of support was more towards myself than the dead boy's family. It would never feel the same as having Charlie's support, for my bond to him could never be replaced or reproduced, but it still felt reassuring to know someone was there for me during a moment of need.
The oppressive weather predicted a storm which, combined with the flickering half-light provided by candles, shrouded the chapel in an uneasy atmosphere. Angela was already there, looking very pale in her black clothes, and holding Ben's hand very tightly.
"Thank you for being here," she whispered to me, and I just nodded, leaving her for a second so I could pay Mr and Mrs Newton my respects.
I knew from experience just how little those words meant, especially after being repeated to exhaustion. Still, I made myself walk towards the broken couple and looked straight into Mr Newton's blue eyes rimmed in red while I uttered them.
"I'm so very sorry for your loss."
The mother covered her mouth and nodded, unable to give an answer, sobbing as quietly as she could.
"They told me... you were the ones who found him. I wanted... to thank you," was Mr Newton's choked acknowledgement, directed at me and Edward.
I clenched my fists, shaking, looking at the man and knowing he was thanking me for a lie. A lie that had given him closure and peace of mind, but still, a lie. The Newtons would never know how their son really died, and I felt bile rising to the back of my throat at the thought.
That's why I simply nodded before walking away and taking a seat by Angela while the rest of the Cullens paid their respects. Edward's hand was entwined with mine as I made an effort to engage the shocked girl.
Gently, I coaxed her to share stories involving Mike; Ben contributed here and there, letting himself get carried away while we tried to forget about the death and remember all the life that had been.
This was interrupted when the casket was brought in.
I realized it was happening from the stir caused outside the chapel, the shouted whispers that circled around. I wanted to prepare Angela - in reality, I even thought of a way of getting her out of there - but there was nothing I could do.
Four men carried the sealed casket, all of them somber and red with effort. Thick and heavy, silence fell over the attendees - nearly all of Forks - as the husk inside carved wood was brought in and sadly displayed.
And I watched as it dawned on Angela's mind - that inside that casket was her lifelong friend. That he was in there, lying still and frozen, forever gone and lost. That they would never share another meal, another conversation.
I watched as a part of her soul was irrevocably lost as well, and she stopped being a child. I witnessed the moment when she lost her immortality.
And I found myself mourning that, too.
There were sickeningly fragrant flowers, fake and genuine words of comfort, phrases that involved youth, waste and getting on with our lives. Jessica was among the many teenagers that attended, looking shocked and, suddenly, aged. She hadn't been able to process any of it, yet.
Jasper was faring the worst among the family, and at some point I had to leave Angela to get his attention.
"Everyone is about to leave for the burial. Maybe you should take Alice home?" I suggested.
He saw right through me, and gave me a brief smile.
"We both know she's doing much better," he pointed out, "and I'm not doing so bad myself. Sure, this is the worst setting for an empath but... Every now and then I'm able to focus just enough to lend the parents some calm. And that's enough."
He liked feeling useful. I nodded, understanding how the illusion of action and control was so important at a time like this.
"The only one eerily unaffected by all of this is Crowley," he pointed out.
I scanned the room until I saw Mike's old friend and teammate, and a quick look at his posture, decreased movement speed and overly relaxed expression sparked old memories.
"That's because he's high as a kite," I sighed.
It seemed like whole days had dragged by when we finally returned to the Cullen's. I'd wanted to invite Angela to spend the night at my place, but a quick look at Edward's face let me know that wouldn't be the best idea.
"Carlisle contacted the Quilleuttes," he explained, as we got in the warm car. "They've agreed to meet us at the house, tonight."
"Should I attend the meeting?" I asked him, selfishly wishing I didn't have to. I was exhausted. All I wanted was a long shower, and maybe the use of Edward's chaise longuefor some sleep.
"Normally I would have said no, but they requested you'd be there."
I let my head fall back against the headrest. «They» were probably Jacob and Billy Black.
Sensing my mood, Edward tried everything to make it easier on me - sitting on his piano bench and pulling me to his side, depending on me to pick what I wanted to hear and showing me some of his favorites.
Insensitive to our bubble, the rest of the Cullens were unusually agitated due to the meeting, Alice and Rosalie seeming the most aggravated of all.
"I don't know why we're doing this in the first place. Those mutts will just try to pin the blame on us."
"No they won't, Rose. I've dealt with the elders in the past - they are much wiser than one might suppose. Rather than endangering the treaty, this should serve as proof of our honesty, and reinforce it," Carlisle argued.
"I hope it does - but I can't say it will. I can't be sure of anything, I hate this," Alice muttered. I looked up questioningly at Edward.
"She can't see the wolves, she never could. It just feels like this... blank her mind can't fill. It hasn't bothered her this much in the past but now, of course..." he whispered in my ear, looking distracted even as his fingers roamed the keys with an aimless harmony I knew was just flowing out of him.
I wondered if he knew how spectacular he was at creating music, beauty, art - and only then reverted to consider Alice's position and the complete unknown this meeting represented to the family.
In my defense, Edward truly was extremely distracting.
Determined that this meeting should be about joining efforts and establishing a peaceful environment of communication, Carlisle asked that, other than myself, only Jasper and Edward were present - strategic choices, taking into account their useful abilities.
"They're coming," my boyfriend announced, the first one to sense them, at a distance. "All in human form," he added, silently answering what I guessed to be his father's query.
The rest of the family cleared the living area - if one could be classified as such, considered who spent their time there - and the tension Edward had worked to keep at bay found its way through me.
In a few minutes, Carlisle was opening the door and greeting the attendees with irreproachable respect and politeness, but they made no move to venture in.
An unknown voice floated to my ears, carrying a request that the meeting be held outside.
Edward tensed slightly, but his father showed no outward signs of caring, even though I knew this was a bad start.
It was very cold outside; the lights above the entrance were turned on - mostly for my sake, I imagined - and the four of us filtered out slowly, yet anxiously.
Jacob was there, looking, if possible, even larger than last time I'd seen him. He kept his eyes on the Cullens while his hand rested at the back of an older man's wheelchair, and for a moment I didn't understand who it was.
Until it hit me.
Aged and taken over by illness, the man I barely recognized as Billy Black now looked up at me with beady eyes sunk into unhealthy skin. They held none of the caring generosity I'd once known him for, and suddenly I had a very bad feeling about all of it.
Father and son were accompanied by a young man with sharper features and the attitude of a warrior. Still, he didn't radiate half as much hostility as the other two.
I locked eyes with Jasper; he looked as uneasy as I felt.
"Thank you for agreeing to meet with us," Carlisle started, getting down to the order of business. "As you know, our family was responsible for finding the Newton boy."
"Who found him, exactly?" asked the young man, who had also asked to relocate the meeting and had introduced himself as Sam Uley.
"My daughter Alice saw the boy's body. Bella and Edward drove to the place and reported the finding to the authorities."
A heavy silence made itself known as my name was mentioned.
Once again, Sam was the one to question Carlisle.
"Was he killed by a vampire?"
"Yes, that was my definite conclusion. He was killed by two vampires," the doctor disclosed, sincerity ringing out of him in a spirit didn't fit the tense occasion.
"How do we know one of you didn't do it?" Jacob snapped, and Edward started to move. Carlisle didn't even have to look at him to discourage any form of action, and suddenly there was a blanket of calm over us all.
Jasper was hard at work trying to keep the hostility at bay - or, at least, contained.
"You have your forefather's knowledge. You know that any vampire that consumes human blood has red stained irises, which, as it can easily be verified, isn't the case in this family. We all have the utmost respect for human life and I believe that, after so many years of peace between our clans, there should be some trust on your side as well as ours."
Silence. Carlisle had played his hand well, but we all knew things could make a bad turn at any second.
Fortunately, Sam seemed very level-headed for his age.
"You're right. There is, of course, no reason to doubt any of you," he acknowledged, and cast an angry look at Jacob as he implied an apology for his behavior. "But we will be on the lookout for these vampires and, if we do get a hold of them... we will take justice into our own hands."
Carlisle nodded emphatically.
"I wouldn't have expected anything different. Alice will be on the lookout as well, and I'll contact our friends in Alaska. If we get any new information, we'll let you know."
Sam Uley nodded back, satisfied, and I breathed slightly better. It was over. The treaty seemed even stronger than before, just as Carlisle had predicted.
The Cullens were, in a figure of speech, out of the woods.
I, however, was not.
"Isabella Swan," Billy croaked, awe in his voice, directed at me. His eyes had yet to leave me throughout the conversation, and now that the dealings revolving Mike's attack were done with, it seemed I was the next topic of discussion. "I never thought I'd see you again. Where is Charlie?"
I sucked in a breath before answering.
"I came alone," I answered. The older man eyed me with incredulity and held my gaze, all traces of friendliness gone. He was making it quite clear I couldn't evade the question. "He passed away last year."
Billy's eyes widened considerably at that, before an ugly sneer took hold of him.
"He would be ashamed of seeing you among thiskind," he spat at me, aiming to hurt.
And wounding me was especially easy, then. My armor was down, broken at my feet. I was grieving not only for Charlie, but for all that had happened - and I was honestly scared of what was to come.
Even so, I straightened my shoulders and jutted my chin out, holding my head high.
"Charlie always taught me to search for friends in unlikely places. To keep an open mind. One would think you would understand this, as Charlie Swan's daughter might walk with the vampires, but Billy Black's son runs with the wolves."
I didn't get an answer. Billy just shook his head and let Sam wheel him away.
Jacob was the last one to leave, his eyes shifting back and forth between Edward and myself, with a barely disguised expression of hatred and disgust. I, on the other hand, couldn't help but feel saddened at seeing the boy I used to play with in a such a light, or absence of it.
"Don't forget the treaty, Cullen. If you hurt her, I'll have your head for it."
"I would never hurt Bella," Edward assured him, strangely calm as he faced the young werewolf. It only aggravated Jacob further - as the vampire didn't seem at all intimidated.
Finally, they all got in the car and drove away. We stayed outside for as long as it took for them to leave the vampires' hearing range, which was long enough to have me shaking violently from the night's cold.
"What did he mean by you hurting me?" I asked my boyfriend as soon as I deemed it safe.
"He was thinking that, if I turned you... He would kill me for it."
It was the first time Edward had ever mentioned turning me, and I knew not what to think or how to feel about it.
I asked no more questions. I'd had as much contact with the supernatural world as I could take.
"I need to go talk to Carlisle," Edward whispered in my ear when we entered the house. I nodded, my eyes downcast, too tired to think straight.
"Do you mind if I head upstairs?"
"Please, go ahead, I'll be there in a few minutes," he sighed, probably relieved that I was staying.
The aluminum shutters were drawn over the large glass wall, and I didn't turn on any lights.
I just felt my way to the chaise longue and laid down, willing it all away.