A/N: Ohai duckies! This one is a wee bit short for an ACAP chapter, but it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun (for me) if I didn't stop it here. lol!
Remember where I said earlier that all the characters in this story do stuff that you might not agree with? Yeah, it applies to this chapter, too. And the next.
There are entries up for the Let's Do Anal twific contest! Go read them at letsdoanal dot blogspot dot com. One of them miiiiiight be one I co-authored. ;-)
All standard disclaimers apply.
As Children After Play
Bella's thin face was pinched and white, her lips pressed tightly together. Her chest heaved once—one physical flash of the turmoil within—before she shut it ruthlessly down. She was not calm, though force of habit made her deny her bodily reactions, struggling to keep the rigid control she used as a shield. Edward stood behind her, arms locked around her waist. His grim expression displayed his anger, but not what he intended to do about it.
"I did everything I was supposed to do. You told me to be strong, that the law would help me." She scrubbed at her cheeks, though they were dry. Her words faded into a despaired whisper. "I did what I was supposed to do."
"I know you did." Carlisle scanned the room with bright, solemn eyes. The gathered family waited in silent support for whatever might come next. "You've been courageous beyond anything the state has a right to expect of you."
"They just don't think they have enough evidence, Bella, and the state doesn't try cases it doesn't think it can win." He ticked the reasons off on his fingers. "We had the belt from Charlie's garage, but even though we did our best to document when and where we got it, they're sure it would be inadmissible in court. Our fear at the time was that Charlie would successfully hide the evidence if we waited for police, particularly since there was no real cause for a search warrant. In that respect I failed you, and I apologize."
Rain beat heavy against the house, jagged bursts blown sideways by the wind. Carlisle saw his human daughter shiver in her thin, long-sleeved t-shirt. He understood Edward's desire to care for her, to ply her with blankets and food, though he had much better restraint than his son. She was such a delicate creature—a young woman who, being human, had needs and limits that the rest of his family left behind long ago. Rosalie's worry about just how much mental and emotional strain Bella could take was fast becoming his own worry as well. She was strong, but everybody had their limits and her habit of repression didn't help.
"I don't blame you," Bella whispered. Her hands fit over Edward's at her abdomen, palms to knuckles. "You were just looking out for me, like you always have."
Carlisle more or less expected that answer. "Nonetheless," he said, "I apologize. That was the one solid piece of physical evidence we had."
"What about the pictures you took?"
"They're admissible, but the problem is that we can't prove who put those marks on you. You say it was your father. Charlie says otherwise."
"And I'm a teenage runaway fuckup. I get it. Nobody will take my word over his." She blinked hard several times and dragged a deep, shaky breath into her chest. "At least they believe it happened, even if they don't believe Charlie did it. That's something, I guess."
"It's not about belief," Carlisle started at the same time Edward hissed, "You're not a fuckup!" His hands tightened on her body, as if he could will the truth into her with the force of his grip.
"I truly think Ms. Hendricks believes you, Bella. Not just about what happened, but about Charlie as well. It's not that she doesn't have faith in you, but the standard of criminal justice is to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The DA's office doesn't believe it can do that with the evidence at hand. That's all it means."
The evening silence settled around them again. Carlisle could hear Bella's strained breaths as she struggled to keep outwardly calm. Her heart pounded harder and faster than normal, and he listened to the echoing thrum of the tiny heart below it. Getting worked up wasn't good for either of them, but what could he do? This wasn't a problem they could easily fix.
"But Ch-Charlie won't go to jail, then. He'll be here."
"You have an order of protection," Carlisle reminded her, though he knew perfectly well that she didn't trust that piece of paper to do anything but make Charlie mad.
A slow blink. She turned her head sideways, rested her mouth against Edward's sleeve as he held her. "He scares me," she whispered into the fabric.
A long, speaking glance passed between Edward and Rosalie. Carlisle had no problem interpreting it. He raised an eyebrow slightly at Esme, whose tiny nod confirmed that she, too, understood. The question was, should they, as heads of the family, allow their son and daughter to do what he knew they planned to do? Both Edward and Rosalie yearned for Charlie's death. He didn't need to read minds to know that.
"You have every right to be scared," he said finally. "He's a dangerous man, and he has hurt and threatened you countless times. Now you're standing up to him, and I'm sure he's very angry. I won't lie to you about that. But we'll do everything in our power to keep you safe—you're a member of this family now, and carrying another. And if Charlie violates the order, he will go to jail."
"The only way you can promise he won't hurt her is if she's in this house at all times, and never left alone. That's not any sort of life," Rosalie argued. To her, the solution was very simple. Charlie would stand no chance. They could make his death look like any number of accidents...or make sure he was never found at all.
"If he won't be tried, do I have to stay here?" Bella's voice was small. "In Forks? It's hard to sleep, knowing he's out there."
Carlisle considered. She asked for so little, and her request was utterly reasonable. They were here in Washington to fulfill their legal obligations. Barring that, what kept them? "Where do you want to go?"
Bella swallowed hard. He watched her throat move, heard the ever so slight disruption of her pulse as her lungs quivered. "Back to Ellison House. I feel safe there."
Edward's dark yellow eyes were sharp as he glared at his father, daring him to deny Bella her wish. Carlisle very much wanted it to be that easy...but it wasn't. He considered the scared girl in Edward's arms. "Bella, I don't like how fast your heart's beating. Will you sit down? Please? We can discuss returning to Britain, I promise."
She obeyed, the entire family moving with her to the living room, where Edward drew her down to sit with him on one of Esme's flawless white couches. Carlisle wished Alice's visions were more certain where Bella was concerned; they could definitely use one now.
At his tone of voice, the faint, hopeful light in her eyes died. Carlisle felt immensely guilty, but he couldn't lie to the child; he just couldn't. She deserved the full truth, so she could make an informed decision. This was her life, after all.
Edward pressed a gentle kiss against her temple, and Bella nestled into the crook of his arm. One of her hands rested on the hesitant swell of her abdomen, thumb stroking slowly. Carlisle wondered if she even noticed what she was doing.
"It's true that we have no more looming trials," he began, "since we won in family court and the DA has declined to prosecute. It's also true that most of us still believe Charlie is a threat, and Bella will have to be watched for as long as we stay in Forks."
Slow nods from several family members.
"There are a few other things to consider, however." He tented his fingers and dropped his head slightly, staring at his own perfect, pale hands. He'd saved a great many lives with those hands—hands that were made to kill rather than heal. He'd resisted the nature of this life, this body, and wrought something, he hoped, greater than the sum of its parts. Better than what he'd come from. Bella had done the same, he truly believed. With a background of horrific abuse from one parent and dismal neglect from the other, by all rights she should be a hardened, closed-off person. Drugs, crime, delinquency—these things often followed the sort of childhood she'd endured. But Bella, she defied the odds. She was scared, yes, and wary of people. But behind that, she had a warm, tender, loving nature. She'd showed fierce loyalty to his family from the start, and she bore no ill-will toward the baby boy she had unwillingly borne, though she could not be his mother. Carlisle was beyond proud of her. If she decided this was it, she didn't want to fight anymore, he wouldn't make her. They could disappear if they had to, though there were certainly consequences to that choice.
"Carlisle, don't make her do this." Edward's voice rumbled out of him, low and angry. "Don't make her stay."
"All I'm asking is that you listen. Nothing more."
"I can do that," Bella whispered. She rested her near hand on Edward's leg, and he quieted.
"If you're serious about going back to the UK, we can ask Heidi about the possibility. You're our foster child only, remember—not adopted. Technically, you still belong to the state of Washington, and it's up to them what you do and where you go."
"No way would Heidi think it's in Bella's best interest to stay in town," Emmett said, swaying on his feet as a sleepy Mason drifted in his arms.
"But England is a very long way away. It's not only another state, it's another country. That's far, far out of the state of Washington's jurisdiction. While Heidi might support a move to another town, I truly believe she won't agree to going so far."
"Another town isn't good enough." Alice frowned. "He'll hear where we've gone from gossip, or use whatever police methods he has to find us. Anywhere in the state is really just a car ride away."
Bella shivered under Edward's arm.
"Are you cold?" He nuzzled her hair gently. "Do you want a blanket?"
She shook her head and ducked closer, leaning into his bulk.
"We can talk to Heidi. I'm more than happy to. But I want you to be prepared if the answer isn't the one you want." Carlisle hated the expression of defeat on Bella's unhappy face. "And there's another consideration, too." He paused. "Mason's biological father."
Bella froze under Edward's arm. Her face went white, her eyes dark as a hungry vampire's.
"Sweetheart, you've been incredibly strong. No one will blame you if you feel that enough is enough. But if you want to prosecute, now is the time. You know who he is. Mason himself is irrefutable evidence. Even if he tries to claim that the act was consensual, you were underage at the time. This is as close to a sure guilty verdict as you'll ever get."
Bella exhaled slowly. Her eyes were dull, almost blank. A fine tremble had started in her limbs; he couldn't tell the cause. She could be exhausted, or emotionally drained, or her body could need food. This baby definitely took a toll on her physically, and if she wasn't sleeping well due to stress, that wasn't good. "I'm so tired," she said finally. "I don't want to. I really don't. But I can't let him stay free."
"Maybe..." Jasper rubbed at his chin slowly as he spoke up for the first time. "Maybe they could get him to rat Charlie out. If someone on the investigative team is competent, that is. He knows you told Charlie, even though your father denies knowing anything about it. If both of you point the finger, Charlie could be on the hook for that. It won't get him very long behind bars, but it would at least take away his badge."
"But how do they get him to talk?" The light shaking of Bella's limbs continued. Carlisle wondered why Edward didn't speak up. Surely he could feel it? "He's Charlie's friend."
"They'd have to offer him something in return. A reduced sentence, most likely, or a lesser charge."
Bella didn't look terribly pleased with that, but she kept silent. A long breath trickled from her lungs. The rain drummed. Mason snored lightly, damply, on Emmett's shoulder.
"You don't have to decide anything tonight." Carlisle tried to reassure her, but he knew the attempt was pointless. She was a worrier. She was a planner. She did not like her future hanging in the air, and he couldn't blame her.
"No," she said with a quick shake of her head. "No, you're right. I want to leave Forks, but I can't. Not yet." She tugged at the front of Edward's shirt and caught his eyes. "Please...don't kill him. Either of them. Please?" She glanced at Rosalie. "Any of you. I don't want to be the cause of more blood on your hands."
"We'd do it with glee, little mouse." Emmett grinned, swaying with his sleeping son on his shoulder. "We'd love it."
"I know, but...don't? For me. Please."
Carlisle called Heidi that night, Esme next to him, listening in. He confirmed that Bella was willing to name the police officer who had raped her, and asked about hypothetically moving the family. She confirmed what he'd suspected—leaving Forks wouldn't be a problem, but leaving the state required an exceptionally good reason and leaving the country was impossible. Unless they transported her in secret, as Edward had when he kidnapped her in the first place, Bella would not give birth at Ellison House as she wished. He hoped it wasn't too great a disappointment, but there was really nothing legally they could do. It was almost February. Bella would turn eighteen in September, and then they could go wherever she desired. For the intervening eight months, they were effectively stuck.
Heidi promised to send over a trusted member of the state police in the morning, along with Leia Hendricks if she could be spared. Bella had to make an official statement, they'd obtain DNA samples from all involved—by court order if Mason's biological father did not voluntarily comply—and then wait for the results. In the meantime, Bella wasn't to leave the house without supervision, not that she ever really left the house anyway. Everyone agreed to keep an eye out for Charlie, too. Knowing where both parties were at all times made guarding their vulnerable family member much easier.
"Carlisle, I'm afraid this may be too much for her." Esme's worried honeydrop eyes flicked toward the stairs, then back to him. Bella was in her room with Edward at the moment. She'd eaten a little after the family discussion and looked better afterward, and now Edward was doing his homework—or pretending to—while Bella read. The soft notes of soothing instrumental music drifted down the stairs.
"I am, too," he admitted. "But I won't tell her she shouldn't take on that man. If she's going to be a vampire someday, I don't want her eternal life clogged with regret."
"It's just...a baby, a trial, Charlie still free—it's a lot. She's only just begun to confront her conflicted feelings about Renee and how her mother essentially abandoned her by signing those papers, even though it was what Bella wanted."
"To be honest, I rather wish she hadn't forbidden Charlie's death." Carlisle could feel his wife's astonishment, and he understood. He valued life highly, and he was not a violent man. Charlie, however... "It would be so, so easy. No one would ever know, and it would be one less strain on her."
"But she did forbid it. She asked us not to kill him."
"I won't." Though if he just so happened to end up on Carlisle's operating table, all bets were off.
"They both deserve to be pulled to pieces," Rosalie growled from the kitchen, where she was feeding Mason. "Conscious, so they can feel every single wrench. It's a pity drawing and quartering has gone out of style."
"But that's not what Bella wants." Carlisle's heart hurt. He felt...heavy. Tired, even. This was worry—this was love. His fragile human daughter and the grandchild she carried within her...they were just so vulnerable. And his family would not survive losing them, either of them, now.
"It's not fair that she can't have what she wants," Rose muttered. She appeared in the doorway, Mason balanced on her hip as he gummed an arrowroot cookie. "She doesn't want to be here, and I don't blame her. Can't we do something?"
"Such as?" Carlisle watched his eldest daughter hold the baby boy Bella had given her—the thing she'd always wanted and never believed she could have. Rosalie was hard, and wary. She didn't let people in; she guarded herself as fiercely as she guarded the child entrusted to her care. That she felt so strongly for the new sister who had stumbled into their lives might seem outwardly strange, but Carlisle understood. Bella had worked her way into Rose's heart without even trying, as she had with them all. "If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them. We're not used to playing by human rules, not really, and I understand how frustrating it is now that we're forced to. But Bella is not only human, she's a legal minor. As such, she hasn't the freedom the rest of us do. If we disappear with her, people will look for her. They'll hunt us down as kidnappers, and the Volturi will hear of it. I don't need to tell you why we don't want them involved." He glanced significantly at the baby tucked against Rose's hip.
His daughter's grip on her son tightened, and the furious scowl that bled across her lovely face told Carlisle he'd made his point. They were stuck, effectively trapped with no good choices. Bella could not leave the state of Washington until she turned eighteen, and her birthday was eight long months away. They could move to another town in-state, but Bella would still be a prisoner in the house. They just couldn't get far enough from Charlie to make her safe, now that he wasn't going to trial.
"She's going to really start showing soon. Heidi won't like that. What are you going to tell her? The truth? That Bella's pregnant with her foster brother's child?"
Carlisle exchanged a glance with Esme. "That's Bella's decision to make," Esme said.
"Though it would be better for all involved if we could get Zinecki behind bars first," Carlisle added. "If Bella agrees, we'll do our best to hide her pregnancy for as long as we can."
"And when you can't anymore?" Rose's free hand whipped out, catching the gummy cookie as Mason dropped it. "What then?"
Yes, Carlisle agreed, that was the question. What then?
"I think she likes having you near." Bella leaned back against Edward's bare chest, the soft waterfall sound of the jetted tub a pleasant white noise in her ears. His skin felt warm against hers in the hot, circulating water, and she smiled as his hands, gentle as always, stroked light patterns along her flesh.
"Why do you think that?" His lips traced the line of her damp shoulder, moving slowly, tantalizingly, toward her ear.
"She moves a lot more. I think she's happy." She tilted her head, a soft breath trickling from her lips as his mouth pressed soft, slow kisses up the side of her throat. "You can't hear my mind. Can—can you hear hers?"
He shook his head, lips tickling the tender skin just below her ear. "No. Or not yet. I want to."
"Can you hear Mason?" She tipped her head back, peering up at him. His nose brushed hers, and he placed a gentle kiss on her mouth. "What do babies sound like?"
"Mmm...it's hard to explain." His arms slid more firmly around her. "They don't think in words. It's all very much emotion, which makes Jasper better able to understand them. To me, they're very...chaotic."
"Really? I'd have thought they'd be simple."
"They are, and they aren't. Their wants are simple—food, affection, comfort, sleep. But the world is so new, so unfamiliar to them. They have no frame of reference for anything."
"If you can hear Mason, that means you'll be able to hear her, right? Even though you can't hear me?"
"I hope so. I really, really hope so."
As if to corroborate Bella's words, the baby moved inside her. Edward's palms stretched over her abdomen and he smiled broadly.
"So amazing," he murmured. "Every time."
Bella felt a thrill of happiness flutter through her. Today had not been pleasant, but she tried to ignore the anxiety that wanted to hover in her bones. Edward was here with her now, his arms firm around her. No matter what happened in the future, here, in this moment, she was safe and content. She had the love of her vampire, and she trusted him when he said he'd never let anything harm her or the child she carried. Trust didn't come easy to her, but she and Edward had been through so much already. Their struggles told her that she had nothing to fear from the man who held her.
His yellow eyes had glowed gold when she asked him if he would bathe with her, Bella remembered all too well the first time they'd been in this tub together, her panic when she woke and discovered herself naked, pressed against a male body. It was the first real mistake he'd made, the first time she'd felt actual fear around him. Neither of them overlooked the significance when she asked him to join her now.
"Bella?" His voice buzzed through her when he spoke. "Can I ask you about tonight?"
She sighed. "As long as you don't let go."
"Never." He twined his legs with hers in the rippling water. "I just want to make sure you're really okay. What you just decided, everything you heard from Carlisle—Bella, it's a lot. I worry about you. You don't need this stress right now."
She shifted in his arms, turning to face him, pressing her chest to his as his arms wound around her, pulling her flush against him. "I know you worry." She hated making him worry—hated feeling like a burden.
"Let me kill him, Bella. Please?" Edward's eyes darkened as he stared at her. "You don't deserve to live with this sort of fear. We thought he'd be going to jail soon, but he's not. If we can't take you away, let me kill him."
His voice was low and deep—intense. Bella shivered at the desire in his dark yellow eyes, the yearning to do this task. To murder her father.
"No one will know. I can make it so no one will suspect a thing." He spoke the cajoling words with slow intent, honey-sweet, a seduction of something other than her body. "I won't even touch him if you don't want me to. It can be...an accident. The sort of thing that happens every day."
He could do it, too. Bella knew he could. A hidden poison, or some sort of death trap set up where he was sure to drive by. A fire in his house. A malfunctioning sidearm. There were any number of possibilities; he didn't need his vampire strength to end Charlie. And part of her, a small, dark part that made her feel sick, wanted to tell him yes. She'd hurt Charlie's pride by taking both Mason and herself away from him, and she knew he was very, very angry. He didn't know how to forgive, or forget, or move on. If she was incapable of putting him behind bars, he was going to hurt her; it was only a matter of time. One wrong move, one moment when Edward or Esme was distracted... She hugged herself closer, soothed by the answering squeeze of Edward's arms.
"Let me protect you. Please, Bella. If we can't keep him in jail, let me do this. I can't lose you—either of you."
She squeezed her eyes tight, pressing her cheek to his. That was kind of a low blow, bringing their daughter into this...but on the other hand, how could he not? She was carrying her as she grew; they couldn't be separated. Whatever Charlie did to her, he did to her daughter, too. And it would feel so wonderful, so incredibly wonderful, not to feel that pervasive fear Charlie's presence shot through her. Waiting and wondering when he would strike was slowly driving her insane. She had difficulty sleeping and she doubted the pervasive low-level nausea that wouldn't go away was all from the pregnancy. Her body was telling her she was stressed and afraid, and she knew it was taking a toll on her health.
Edward was hers to protect, just as she was his. And as such, she couldn't let him kill Charlie. Not for her father's sake, but for Edward's. Charlie wasn't worth whatever his death would cost. She had to take care of Edward just as he took care of her, and this was one way she could do that.
"You won't lose us." She brushed a kiss along his jaw and held him tightly. "I love you. Will you take me to bed, please?"
He didn't argue.
But neither did Bella sleep.
Edward held her above her blankets, curled protectively around her body. He knew she wasn't asleep—her light breaths and quick heartbeat told him as much. Vague frustration prickled at him, because he had absolutely no idea what thoughts plagued her sleep. Anyone else, and he'd be able to tease it from the mind without any trouble. But not Bella. He'd never been able to hear Bella.
She responded sweetly when he made love to her, the soft human body he loved so much trembling with pleasure under his hands and mouth. She kissed him as if starved for the touch of granite skin under her lips, her sweet human self molding to him, so fragile, so wanting. Bella no longer feared physical love—not from him. She craved it, craved the sensation of being utterly, completely loved.
"Forever, Bella," he promised as she cuddled against him in the warm aftermath, boneless and replete. Even the child in her womb quieted. "I'm yours forever."
She tipped her face up and nuzzled his nose. "You'll turn me?" Her voice was a muted whisper. "After she's born?"
He nodded, brushing his lips along the well-loved contours of her face. "If that's what you want. You're in charge now."
"It's what I want. I don't want to grow old without you."
He chuckled. "If you want to stay human, I will be with you through it all—every age. I will love you for as long as I have you."
"And after? When I die? What will you do then? Jasper told me finding a mate is a one-time thing for vampires."
"It is." Edward pulled her close, letting her tuck her head under his chin. These were questions he didn't like thinking about. "I don't know how long she'll be with us," he said slowly, placing his hand on her belly. "We just don't know what her future will be. But...if there ever comes a time when you're both gone and I'm still here..." He shook his head. "I won't be, much longer. You're my life now."
Bella understood completely.
She also understood that all this worry about Charlie being free wasn't good for her, and her daughter's health was contingent upon her own. She let Edward settle her under her blankets again, curling into his arms for comfort. He meant the world to her—Edward, and the daughter they'd created. Charlie being free threatened this little family, and Carlisle was right that they could not run away. Not right now.
So for the sake of the baby she carried, the daughter Edward yearned for, she had to do something.
Which was why, the next afternoon while Esme was mulching her garden, Bella took the keys to the new black Volvo she'd been given. Edward was hers to protect, as was the daughter she carried. Charlie was a threat to all of them if he stayed out of jail, and since she couldn't let anyone in her new family kill him, that left one option.
Luckily, she knew exactly where he'd be at this hour. Charlie was nothing if not set in his ways.
A/N: Loves you, duckies! Happy Easter!
Oh, if you haven't checked out my 90's oneshot, it's on my profile. It's called Swan Song, and has smut and a Grungeward. We didn't win anything, but I still like him. ;-)