Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

A/N: An updated playlist and a new story button are available on my Breathe Me page at http://fragilelittlehuman[dot]wordpress[dot]com/fan-fiction/breathe-me/.


Chapter 10: Just a Little Late

Bella stood over the trembling man, pinning him to the ground. "Like to hit little kids, do you? Are you scared now, motherfucker?"

The man didn't speak, but his eyes were wide with fear. When he began to cry and beg for his life, Bella only laughed.

"Come on now, don't be such a baby."

She felt the bloodlust coursing through her body, and, with movements so quick she blurred, she pulled the man's head to the side and sank her teeth deep into his jugular. She felt the warm blood rush into her mouth, but it was also spurting, spraying her face until she couldn't see.

Cold hands pulled her from the man's neck. Wiping blood from her eyes, she looked up to see him, smiling down at her.

"You're doing it wrong, love. Let me show you."

Gasping for air, Bella sprung up from the bed, her hair and clothes wet with sweat and sticking to her. Her head jerked in every direction as she remembered where she was: in her room, safe and human.

"What the hell was that?" She shook her head, trying to free it from the dream's cobwebs.

"Bells," she heard Charlie calling from downstairs, "are you awake? We have to be at Glenn's soon!"

That's right, Wednesday. It's Wednesday. Time for dinner at Jackson's.

"Yeah, Dad, getting in the shower right now!"

Bella walked slowly to the bathroom, still confused about the dream and its meaning. As she let the shower's hot water wake her, she decided to discuss it with Mick when he came to see her after dinner.

***

Mick stood in the woods behind Bella's house, wondering why the Cold One was still there. Since the morning Bella told him she was being followed, Mick trailed her. Each night, the pattern was the same. As soon as the sun set, the Cold One appeared at the edge of the woods, waiting for Bella to leave the house. When she did, she was shadowed, which continued all night. When Bella returned home, the Cold One would wait for her to turn off her bedroom light before leaving until the next sundown.

He took care to remain downwind at all times lest his scent give him away. With his keen vampire senses, Mick was able to stay over a hundred feet away and still be entirely aware of the Cold One's movements. He was convinced that Bella was in danger, yet she'd been alone several times without being attacked. To Mick, none of it made sense. Tonight's variation of the pattern added to his confusion. Mick fully expected Bella to be followed to dinner at Jackson's house, but she wasn't.

Instead, the Cold One jumped to the second floor balcony. Mick watched intently from the ground as the monster leaned against the door, forehead against glass, and breathed deeply. Mick knew the locked door was no real obstacle for any vampire, evolved or not, and he began to worry about what would happen once Bella returned home and lay down in her bed.

Charlie and Bella won't have a chance.

In a flash, Mick pounced onto the balcony, grabbing the Cold One by the throat. "Why are you here?" It was barely a whisper, but, to a vampire, it was a loud as a piercing scream.

Startled, the monster stuttered. "I...I...I meant no harm."

"Bullshit!" Mick tightened his vise-like grip. "You don't know how to do anything else!"

"I swear, I don't want to hurt Bella."

Through clenched teeth, Mick deliberately spoke. "And I'll make sure of that if it's the last thing I do."

Never releasing his captive, Mick leaped to the ground and ran full speed into a tree at the edge of the woods. The Cold One's body crashed into the tree with a sickening sound, and the dense tree trunk cracked and splintered.

"Stop, let me explain! If I could just talk to Bella, to Charlie..."

Mick knew the crash had done no real damage, and he had little choice but to dismember the monster. "If you think I'm going to let you near either one of them, you've got another thing coming!"

One hand still clamped around the Cold One's throat, Mick raised his free hand. The monster's cold fingers immediately wrapped around Mick's wrist and attempted to pin his arm back behind him. Mick and the Cold One locked eyes, and, for a moment, Mick thought he saw fight change to fateful resignation.

The sound of a shotgun blast and a muzzle flash over their heads shocked them out of their staredown. Mick turned to see Bella standing, mouth hanging open, a shotgun in her hand, and a shell casing at her feet.

***

Charlie needed to go to the station after dinner, so Bella decided they should drive to Jackson's house separately. She was a block down the street when she realized she'd forgotten her cell phone. At the four-way stop, she jumped out of her truck and ran to Charlie's cruiser, motioning him to roll down his window.

"I forgot my phone. I need to go back and get it in case I get called in to cover a shift."

Charlie sighed. "Okay, I'll meet you at Glenn's."

Bella jogged back to her truck, making a quick u-turn and driving toward the house. She unlocked the door and headed straight for her bedroom, sure that the missing phone was on the shelf over the bathroom sink.

As she opened her bedroom door, she heard shouting in the back yard. The voice was clearly Mick's, and he was livid.

"If you think I'm going to let you near either one of them, you've got another thing coming!"

Bella had never heard Mick raise his voice, which always had a calm, smooth timbre no matter the words. Yet his scream was full of fury and implied violence, and it made her shudder.

She grabbed the shotgun hidden under her bed and bolted downstairs. Bursting through the back door, she saw Mick, tensely standing, fist balled and shaking, pinning someone against a sagging tree at the edge of the woods. She couldn't shoot the intruder without hitting Mick, so she opted for a warning shot fired over their heads. She raised the gun and slowly squeezed the trigger.

The muzzle flash was blinding against the dark sky, and Bella blinked to focus past the halos in her vision. She finally saw Mick turn to face her, and her jaw dropped in shock. His eyes were no longer a deep blue but completely white, small slit pupils and the barest blue tint where his irises once were. It was the first time she'd seen his fangs, and he was baring them, ready to bite.

His voice was an eerie rumble. "Go back into the house, Bella. I can take care of this."

Mick lowered his raised fist but did not release his hold on the intruder. As he continued to turn toward her, she could see a face behind him slowly revealed in the moonlight. She gasped as she came face to face with a ghost, a ghost with bright, shining amber eyes.

Edward.

The world spinning around her, Bella wobbled slightly on her unsteady feet. Memories, suppressed and dim, became bright and detailed as they flashed through her mind. Although she was sure she should feel relieved or even happy that Edward had returned, she had only one overwhelming emotion as she straightened her back and raised her chin.

She was angry.

Bella lowered the shotgun muzzle but did not drop the gun. "What the fuck are you doing here?"

Mick turned his attention back to Edward, still pinned to the tree. "He's here to finish what he started. I told you he'd be back."

"What are you talking about? If you hadn't stopped me, she would have never known I was here." Edward's voice was velvet and dripping with condescension, just as she remembered. "Could you please ask him to let me go?"

Who the hell does he think he is?

"Let him go. He won't hurt me."

Stupefied, Mick slowly released Edward and moved to Bella's side, pushing her behind him as he shielded her with his body.

"I asked you a question, Edward," Bella said coldly. "What the fuck are you doing here?"

Edward began to move toward her but stopped when Mick snapped his teeth. "I came to make sure you were okay. When Alice saw Mick here..."

Bella huffed. "Alice, I should have known."

"Who's Alice?" Mick asked. "And how does he know my name?"

"He's a telepath."

"That's just great," Mick said, rolling his eyes. "A caveman that does magic tricks."

Edward, his eyes now inky black, stormed toward Mick, stopping just inches away. "And what are you, her guard dog?"

"Whatever I am, I'm here to make sure you don't bite her again." Mick stood his ground, and the tension between the two heightened.

After a few seconds, Mick's words finally registered with Bella, and she softly placed her hand on his shoulder to calm him. "Mick, it wasn't him. Why would you even think that?"

Mick turned his head to the side, warily looking at Bella. "I saw it when I read your past."

"Now who's the magician?" Edward's face twisted into a smug smirk, which only made Bella more angry.

"You," she said, pointing insistently at Edward, "shut up. You," she said to Mick as she let her hand soothingly stroke his arm, "we'll discuss this past reading thing later." She felt Mick's taut muscles relax, and he took a deep, calming breath.

Edward's smirk fell as he watched Bella's gentle treatment of Mick. As much as she knew it shouldn't, his discomfort made her happy, and she returned to her questioning. "Have you been stalking me?"

"Yes, but..."

"No but. It stops...now." Bella's voice was clear and emphatic. "And tell Alice to quit spying on me."

Edward began pleading. "You don't understand. She did it for me, to make sure you were okay."

When she first acknowledged her anger, Bella thought she had it under control, but any pretense of control was shattered when he told her she didn't understand. "I don't need your protection. I can take care of myself. I've done just fine without you for three years, so you can just go back to your little coven and leave me alone!"

"I can't leave you alone...not now that I've seen you again." Edward reached out to touch her, but Mick pushed her further behind him.

"Oh you by God can, and you will!" Bella screamed, digging her fingers into Mick's arm. "Only this time I won't be fetal and alone in the middle of nowhere!"

Mick spun on his heel and wrapped his arms around her, clutching her tightly to his chest. "Edward, I think it's best if you just leave."

"Mick...Bella...please, just hear me out."

Tears welled up in her eyes, but Bella was determined not to give Edward the satisfaction of making her crumble again. "No. There's too much...too much you've done and too much you've missed. Everything is different now."

"I know," Edward said, his voice soothing and his eyes again warm amber. "Alice showed me."

A new wave of anger crested and crashed into her, and Bella snapped her head up from Mick's chest to glare at Edward. "What did she show you? Did she show you how I stopped living when you left me?"

"Yes," he said quietly, his head bowed.

Bella pushed away from Mick and began stomping toward Edward. "Did she show you how I came here? How I changed? Did she show you that?"

His eyes widened as he shuffled backward. "Yes."

Mick tried to grab her arm but missed as she jerked it away. "Bella..."

"No, Mick, I think I deserve to know, since it's my goddamned life he's been watching! What else did she show you?"

"She showed me Renee...I'm so sorry."

The revelation stopped Bella in her tracks. The mention of Renee's name caused a stabbing pain in her chest, and she covered her heart protectively with her hand. "You...knew? You knew she died and you couldn't even be bothered to make sure I was okay?"

"But you were; Alice showed me."

Suddenly, Bella's field of vision turned blood red, and she began to raise the shotgun. "Well, I hope she showed you how this ends, because it won't end well."

Mick ran to her, enveloping her in his arms while she struggled against him. "I think you need to leave, Edward," Mick whispered.

"I'm sorry Bella...I didn't think..." Edward's voice trailed off as he buried his face in his hands.

Bella's voice was once again ice cold. "Yeah, I'm sure you didn't. Now fuck off."

She ceased struggling and looked into Mick's worried blue eyes. Once her breathing returned to normal, he kissed her on top of her head and released her. Turning, she stumbled to the house, letting the shotgun fall to the ground along the way. Dazed, she climbed the stairs to her room and watched through the balcony doors as Mick and Edward talked. Mick gestured vigorously toward the woods, and, eventually, Edward disappeared into the trees.

Bella changed into her sweats and, finding her cell phone on the shelf over the sink, called Charlie to let him know she wouldn't make it to dinner.

***

Mick sat on the bench in Bella's backyard and waited. He knew she would want to talk to him, and he used the time alone to think about all he'd learned. He'd misunderstood the visions from their first meeting, that much was clear. But, he wondered, how had Edward, who obviously loved Bella deeply, hurt her so badly?

Probably because he's a stupid, unevolved prick.

Mick chuckled to himself, thinking about all the ways he could needle the prim, smug Cold One.

"What's so funny?"

Mick raised his eyes and saw Bella, calm and comfortable, sit next to him on the bench. "Hey there. I was hoping, if I waited, you'd come see me."

She leaned against him, and he wrapped his arm around her shoulder. "I called Charlie and let him know I wasn't going to make it. He knows there's something wrong, though."

"What are you going to tell him?"

"The truth."

Mick was shocked. "The truth?"

"Well, the truth in Charlie terms," Bella said, laughing.

Her laughter echoed in the trees, and Mick smiled, impressed by her resilience. He was hesitant to revisit sore subjects, but, as always, his curiosity won out. "Can you explain to me what is really going on here, Bella?"

"First, I think you owe me an explanation about this past seeing shit."

"I can take a deep breath and see a person's past." He paused, waiting for her to digest the information. "I did it the first time I saw your scar. But everything was all disjointed and blurry, like you were blocking me."

Bella pulled back, sitting to face Mick. "I didn't block you; I blocked myself. You have to understand, I've spent a lot of energy the past three years pushing down every memory and emotion associated with Edward." As soon as she said his name, her hand covered her mouth then, a few seconds later, dropped to her lap. "I hadn't even said his name before tonight."

"How did it feel?" he asked, reaching for her hand.

"Honestly? The entire night just made me angry. I was so angry I couldn't see straight, and I just wanted to blow his damn head off and shut him up."

"You know, that wouldn't have hurt him at all."

A wry smile spread across her face. "Yeah, but it would have made me feel better."

"I'm sorry I looked at your past without telling you."

"It's okay, but don't do it again. I guess I should be used to vampires not telling me things," she said, shrugging.

Mick nodded knowingly. "Yes, lying by omission is a favorite sin of the vampire."

"You're tellin' me."

"Edward do that a lot?"

Bella turned to lean into Mick again, snuggling against him when he hugged her. "I'm pretty tired. Can't you just do your past seeing shit and save us both a lot of time?"

Mick hugged her closer, closed his eyes, and took one steady, deep breath. Her past, once dark and indistinct, was now in high definition. He saw every experience and felt every emotion she had, beginning with the first time Bella saw Edward in the cafeteria and ending with the last time she saw him in Forks. However, unlike Bella, he also understood Edward's struggle with the inner monster. He could see it on Edward's face and in his eyes. Mick knew, even before the vision ended, Jasper's attack on Bella had pushed Edward over the edge. Still, he thought, if Edward loved Bella the way he seemed to, the way Mick himself loved Beth, he should have been honest with her instead of trying to coddle her like a child.

When the vision dissipated, Mick cleared his throat and swallowed hard. "I'm sorry that you went through that, Bella. What are you going to do now? He still loves you, and he's not going anywhere."

Bella sighed, sinking further into Mick's embrace. "He loved a little girl, Mick, and I'm not her anymore. I think it's over."

"I don't know Bella. Is something like that ever really over?"

Bella was silent, but Mick hadn't really expected an answer. They sat, watching the brown leaves of early November fall to the ground. Soon, the trees would be bare, and they would not have the sound of the rustling leaves to help them forget the stresses of the day. Even so, Mick enjoyed the passing of the seasons. It reminded him of the natural course life should take, a course he would have taken under different circumstances.

"Well," Bella said, pulling herself from Mick's arms and standing, "I'm going upstairs and have my private little pity party before I have to face Charlie. I'm not sure I can keep it together for him if I don't."

He smiled, wondering what she meant. "Okay, but I'm going to stay here for a little while, just to make sure you don't have any more unwanted visitors."

"Good night, Mick." Bella flashed a brief grin before walking into the house.

Mick leaned back on the bench, stretching his legs and crossing them at the ankles. He listened closely, paying attention to each of Bella's light footsteps through the house, up the stairs, and into her bedroom. He could hear her turn on the CD player, and a loud song began playing.

She thinks I won't hear her over the music.

A few seconds into the song, he heard the first of her soft sobs, each one like a twist of a knife deep in his heart. He listened until, with the last notes of the song, the sobs ceased and she descended the stairs to wait for Charlie.