The Count of Tuscany
This story is for my kid sister, H4, because she's not bad as kid sisters go.
Sometimes I get insomnia and lying there I become very bored. What else can you do but plot, without waking everyone else up?
I'd heard the song "The Count of Tuscany" and thought its theme sounded a bit Twi-ish, though I'm sure that if Dream Theater knew, they'd be as pleased as Muse aren't. When I'd plotted I mentioned it to H4 & she asked me to write it. So I am. It's all her responsibility.
It was after I did the first chapter that I realized it paralleled the Princess Bride tagline: "She gets kidnapped, he gets killed, but it all works out right in the end." Maybe that's where the similarity ends.
This chapter's also not beta'ed by Irritable Grizzzly; she took me under her wing afterwards, so all the mistakes are mine.
"On days like these I wonder what became of you. Maybe today you're singing songs with someone new. I'd like to think you're walking by those willow trees remembering the love we knew on days like these.
It's on days like these that I remember singing songs and drinking wine while your eyes played games with mine." Theme to" The Italian Job" sung by Matt Munro
The first time Edward noticed that Carlisle had the photograph in his study, he'd snarled; momentarily frozen and staring at it. Then he'd glared at Carlisle, spun on his heel and abruptly walked out.
The picture was the last group photograph the family had taken before Bella's eighteenth birthday party. Alice had forecast that it would be the last hot day before the end of the summer. The opportunity for a day in the outdoors was too good to miss.
Packing up a picnic for Bella, and all clad in swimming gear under their shorts and tees, the Cullens headed into the national park, stopping at an isolated lake that Alice confirmed would be avoided by humans for most of the day. There they spread out blankets and towels along the narrow ribbon of sand at the shore and for a while basked in the sun, enjoying the heat that warmed even the Cullens' bodies. They resembled a row of Swarovski figurines, throwing rainbows across the surrounding trees and rocks, and across Bella's pale skin. The temperature had climbed well into the eighties by noon, before the day began to cloud over, reducing further the slight risk of alarming any lost hikers passing their way.
Alice and Jasper had started the game. Rosalie and Emmett watched lazily; Edward, propped against a rock with his arms around Bella, nudged her with his chin. She looked across to the water where Alice stood facing out toward the centre of the lake.
With Jasper bending before her, Alice daintily lifted her foot into his clasped hands, at the same time raising her arms into a diving pose above her head. Jasper straightened suddenly, heaving his arms up and catapulting Alice high into the air. As she rose, she arched her back, toes pointed, spreading her arms wide in a balletic bird pose. As she arced towards the water she twisted, somersaulted and pirouetted before cutting neatly into the middle of the lake. Within seconds she was back to the shore.
"Six point zero!" called Emmett as Alice surfaced, acknowledging him with a prim smile.
Bella had watched round-eyed, still occasionally surprised by the vampires' abilities when they did not have to maintain their human façade, "Wow!" was all she could say.
In her turn, Alice bent in front of Jasper, clasping her hands, hurling him equally high into the air.
Emmett, of course, could not resist the challenge. He and Jasper began to compete, trying to outdo one another in the numbers of turns, twists and somersaults they could manage before hitting the water. They repeatedly called on Edward to join them, but he laughed, saying that he was more than happy where he was. When Carlisle outdid the pair of them, aided by Esme, who turned to wink at Bella, Emmett waded back to the beach.
"Want a go, little sis' ?" he held his hand out to Bella.
Bella looked up at him, uncertainty on her face, as Edward turned to look at Alice, who nodded. Rosalie pulled her (unnecessary) sunglasses down her nose to look across to him, "Em, leave it out; if she breaks her neck you know Edward will sulk all day."
To Bella's surprise, Edward laughed, "Well, for an hour, at least." She elbowed him as she stood up, "Let's go, Emmett."
Wading a couple of yards into the water, Emmett bent forward. Bella steadied herself with her hands on his shoulders while she carefully fitted her foot into his hands. He looked down into her eyes, "Just a short distance this first time, okay? Just dive straight in. The water's deep enough here. I'll count to three."
Bella nodded, taking a deep breath.
On three, Emmett gently launched her into the air over his shoulder. She rose in a smooth arc to about fifteen feet, stretching her arms into an elegant dive, cutting cleanly into the water. As she surfaced she whooped in glee, "Emmett, that was fantastic!". She swam back to shore, giggling as she stood, "Again, please!"
Emmett laughed. Edward leaned back against his rock, arms behind his head, grinning.
"Aren't you going to join us, Edward?" Bella asked, looking over her shoulder as she again lifted her foot.
"Not likely," he responded, "The view is so much better from this vantage point."
Bella pretended she needed to adjust her balance, wiggling her shoulders and hips. Edward let out a low growl of appreciation, "Tease."
She laughed, nodding at Emmett who began to count again.
For nearly half an hour Bella made dive after dive, Emmett carefully increasing the height of each. Finally, she began to tire. On her last dive, as Emmett threw her into the air, her foot slipped in his grasp. Her trajectory, instead of being towards the middle of the lake, was towards a large moraine boulder in the shallows. Emmett realised instantly what was going wrong and began to turn. Bella opened her mouth to scream as she saw the boulder rushing toward her.
Faster than either, Edward saw the picture in Alice's mind, simultaneous with Emmett's realisation. His head snapped up, eyes judging distance, velocity and angles. Before anyone else could move, he leapt high into the air, corkscrewing round as he encircled Bella with his arms; one at her waist, the other around the back of her head to gently hold her cheek against his shoulder. Still spinning, their path curved round to deeper water. Just before they hit the surface, Edward moved under her, throwing her upwards so that he crashed down into the depths, while she barely submerged. Almost instantly Edward resurfaced, supporting Bella as she spluttered lake water, "Exciting enough for you?"
Bella blew a lock of hair away from her mouth, "My hero," she croaked. He grinned at her, planting a quick kiss on her forehead. Then he slung her across his back and swam to the shore. Emmett was waiting, "Sorry, Bella." Sorry Edward.
It was a few minutes later that Carlisle set the camera timer before joining the line-up.
The men stood in a line, thigh-deep in the water, with the girls standing on their shoulders, arms around each other. Emmett commented that they looked like an anaemic circus troupe. Bella's lightly-freckled, sun blushed skin stood out pink against the Cullens' pearlescent pallor.
Rosalie and Esme, on either side of Bella, faced steadily towards the camera, smiling widely; Alice placed a foot on Jasper's head, a large drop of water ready to drip from her big toe onto the end of his nose.
Bella began to wobble just before the shutter released. The image caught her looking down at Edward, smiling and flushed, his right arm snaked around her lower leg, holding her steady just below the knee. He was looking up, expression caught mid-laugh, his eyes meeting hers. Carlisle had never seen him looking so happy.
In Edward's eyes, the photograph mocked him with lost love, failure and days that would never come again. To Carlisle, for many months it had shown love, family and hope for the future. No more. Now, it mocked him with his own failures: failure to protect those in his care, failure to properly guide Edward in an existence that he had had forced upon him, failure to keep his family together. It was high summer again, would soon be a year since they had severed Bella from their lives; she was gone and now Edward was gone, and the family was fragmented.
After leaving Bella in the forest, Edward had run all the way to their rendezvous in Denali. Esme had been frantic with worry about how he would react to the separation. On arrival he studied her anxious face, enveloped her in a bear-hug and smiled down at her.
For two months, Edward had smiled. He'd been lovingly cheerful, assiduously helpful during their subsequent move to Chicago, laughed at everyone's jokes and smiled, smiled, smiled. He never brought up the subject of Forks, nor Bella, but if either happened to be mentioned, he would smile and express a hope that all was well there. At his insistence Alice had, metaphorically, put her fingers in her ears and hummed loudly so as not to think of Bella, nor follow her future.
Every night he left the house; running, Alice said. He couldn't be still. He returned at dawn, smiling.
Esme relaxed, beginning to believe her hope that Edward could move on. Rosalie and Emmett relaxed; Carlisle grew worried. Edward cracked jokes and smiled. While Edward smiled, Jasper grew silent and drawn. Emmett later said that it was like living the story of Dorian Gray. The more cheerful Edward became, the more frayed Jasper looked. Carlisle began to notice him open his mouth as though to speak, only to close it again on receiving a slight head-shake from Edward.
Esme never found out that Edward burned most of his clothes. The only used set he kept were those he wore on his last meeting with Bella. These he vacuum sealed and stored. She didn't see the pulverised stone in the disused quarry high in the mountains. She didn't see it coming – the morning Edward walked back in following his nightly run, an hour after Carlisle left for work. He stood in the hallway, melting sleet dripping from his hair and clothes. His voice was flat, "I can't do this any more." Alice stood with her hands over her mouth, Jasper's arms tight around her shoulders.
Edward crossed to the hall table, took out a set of car keys and dropped them in Rosalie's palm. A look of annoyance crossed her face, "Edward, what do I want with the Volv…." She stopped, seeing the Aston Martin branding, and realisation began to dawn "No!" she cried.
Edward had no more smiles left in him. He looked across at Jasper. " I just can't. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Please tell Carlisle, I …" He stopped, shook his head, and looked across to Alice, "Don't look for me. I'll call. I promise, I'll call," and he was gone.
Carlisle was in his new office at Rochester General, still gazing at the photograph when the phone rang.
"Carlisle Masen", he responded, "Can I help you?"
There was a brief silence, followed by the shuffling sound of papers, and then a voice that Carlisle instantly recognised asked gruffly, "Is that Carlisle Cullen?"
A dozen thoughts tumbled through Carlisle's mind. It should not have been possible for Charlie Swan to track him down, not without a great deal of effort, resource and decent amount of luck. The family were adept at changing identities and covering their tracks. Carlisle felt suddenly afraid. The mere fact that Charlie was on the other end of the line meant that he'd had reason to expend the effort, to be determined. There was only one reason why he would ever do so. Bella.
Carlisle closed his eyes. No point in pretending, "Chief," he said flatly, "what's wrong?"
Charlie gave a humourless snort, "I appreciate the plain speaking," he responded, "This isn't a casual call. I need to speak to that boy of yours."
Definitely Bella, then. The pain that had been a permanent resident in Carlisle's heart these last months made the words difficult to say, "That's not possible, Charlie. I presume this is about Bella?"
"How has she been?"
"I must talk to him."
"Is she all right?"
Carlisle sat up straight. A leaden dread settled in his stomach.
"Six weeks ago. And she's not the first. Now, I'm not saying that your boy had anything to do with it, but I need to speak to him, make sure. He might know something, have some idea…"
Carlisle tried to speak calmly, "Charlie, I'm sorry, but you can't speak to my son." He drew in a breath over the Chief's attempt to interrupt, "Edward was killed in Italy six months ago."