Stephenie Meyer owns these characters. I like to pretend Edward is mine.

Thanks to bonnysammy for the beta and to my pre-reader Malianani.

This piece is for Lezlee.


A/N: Charlie Swan's portrayal in canon always bothered me. I never could understand how the chief of police could be so willfully ignorant of what was going on around him, supernatural or otherwise. In Twilight especially, he came across as an absentee father even when he was present. This is my attempt to rectify what I felt was lacking in his portrayal.

Because it has been so long since I've updated Fox Fire, regular readers may want to skim over chapter 26 before reading this. To set the scene: imagine how Charlie's first formal meeting with his daughter's new boyfriend might have gone had that fated baseball game not taken place. The nomadic vampires have yet to make their appearance in this story.

Edward took Bella to his meadow on Saturday, and they declared their love for one another. On Sunday, she met his family. They went back to the real world at Forks High on Monday. What happens takes place at the Swan residence that evening.


STOIC SQUIRM

"You planning on going home tonight, Chief—or you want me to pull out the hide-a-bed?"

The deputy's voice makes me jump. Looking around, I realize that he's right: I was going to leave work over an hour ago.

"There's nothing more for you to do," he persists when I don't make a move. "Dave Cohlene's on ice and he's not going anywhere."

He's right about that too, but we still don't know what killed the man. I can't rest easy until I know what we're dealing with. And Major Crimes wants answers. Stat. "Fish and Wildlife haven't reported in yet. . . " I start, but he just puts a hand over the paperwork spread out in front of me, shaking his head.

"Go home to your daughter, Charlie."

"Yeah, boss. We got it covered. Just go." This, from the sergeant who doesn't even look up from filing court dockets.

I stretch the kinks out of my back, suddenly feeling dog-tired. That's three hours overtime I've clocked today, on top of coming in Sunday for the Forensics investigation. The guys are right, though. I'll just be waiting for the phone to ring or the fax to buzz, like the proverbial watched pots they are. It's a waste of time and taxpayers' money. Yeah, getting home and putting my feet up in front of the TV suddenly seems like Heaven. Sit in my easy chair so I can down a cold one in peace. Just let me be. For the next twelve hours, I won't even think about work.

Of course that's a lie. I know I will. My dedication to the job's what makes me a good cop, after all. Or so say my performance reviews. Sometimes, that just makes me laugh because I don't feel so dedicated these days. Mostly, I just feel tired. Old. But what else is there for me to do? Police work's all I know. And I can't just leave my men. I'm responsible for them too. They'll all run off their feet too, no matter what they say. When a major crime occurs—like this death over by the Rayonier mill—we just don't have the manpower to cope.

But they've convinced me. I'll hang it up—for tonight at least. "All right. One of you call me if you hear from Fish and Wildlife, okay?"

"We will, boss. Promise."

"Now, get the hell outta here—er, sir."

The cold mist is refreshing as I step out of the overheated station. I think about leaving the cruiser there and walking home. It's only ten minutes, and the fresh air might do me some good. I think about it for all of a second or two and decide to drive after all. It feels good to shut the door on the outside world and I just have to sit here for a minute before I turn the engine on. I catch a glimpse of my face in the rearview mirror as I back out of the stall. When the hell did grey hair start growing out of my eyebrows?

My neck's all stiff and the tension in my lower back reminds me that I got more exercise than I wanted yesterday, trudging through ankle-deep mud in the woods. What a way to spend my day off. To hell with exercise: I just want to get home quick. Besides, the game starts in half an hour.

I hope Bella went straight home like I asked. I know she likes to go for walks by herself and I don't want her wandering in the woods if we've got a rogue animal near town. What if it's diseased? I'm glad we got the word out around town this morning. Folks don't usually keep their doors and windows locked around here.

I sure hope she got dinner on.

And I want to kick myself for thinking that. She shouldn't feel obligated to cook for me. She shouldn't be looking after me, period. If I was a better parent, I'd be around when my daughter needs me instead of hiding at work or taking off fishing. I never had enough practice at being a dad. And now she's at that age . . . we can talk about the colleges she should apply to, but we sure as hell can't talk about feminine hygiene products. Or boys. I don't even want to go there. She needs her mom for that.

No. She needs to be needed is what. And I think that's why she came here. I went through a bad patch after Renée remarried last fall and she must have figured her old man could use some looking after. She's always been different that way. Mature for her age. Renée jokes that she was middle-aged by the time she was six. Huh. I guess someone had to be the grown-up in that house. I don't like thinking that, but it's true. Then Renée found Phil and she didn't need Bella anymore. What does it say about the two of us as parents that our daughter feels she has to work for our love?

I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. She gets that over-developed sense of responsibility from me. I decided to stay here and look after my parents and my marriage fell apart because of it. Deep down, I probably knew that Renée didn't really need me, either. I never did stop loving her, though.

Bella's introverted—she gets that from me, too. She's always had better friends in the pages of her books than she does in real life. Some parents might have been worried about that, but my daughter's social development progressed just fine as far as I was concerned. What worried me was when she got bullied for it at school a couple of years back.

Renée never sweated that stuff. "She'll deal with it in her own way," she told me. And she did. We never knew how bad it got for Bella because she never complained.

She's been here two months and it's scary how I've come to rely on her. We have our routine now. She says she likes being useful, and I have to admit I enjoy having her around. I missed so many of her growing up years. Now she's almost grown up and she's beautiful—a young woman. How'd she get to be seventeen so fast?

And then I'm thinking about the Cohlene kid, killed near the mill on Saturday night. Well, he was no kid, but I remember when he was seventeen. In and out of foster homes his whole life. Juvenile record as long as your arm by the time he was fourteen. Theft, break-and-enter, possession. I lost track of the number of times he went down to Juvie. He took off to Seattle for a couple years and came back even more messed up than before. He turned out to be a nasty piece of work, but his family still deserves closure. His Makah grandparents do, anyway. They were the only ones who gave a damn.

Never could prove he was dealing to the La Push kids, but we all knew he was. Today he's in the morgue. Tomorrow, he'll be buried at Neah Bay with his ancestors. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy . . . The deputy said it, but we were all thinking it. Funny that he'd end up as bear-bait, though. I always figured it would happen differently. It's bad that I expected him to die at all, but I did; I admit it. I figured he'd buy it in a meth-lab explosion or a gang hit, maybe. But an animal attack? It just seems so . . . anti-climactic.

I doubt it was a bear that got him. Sure, they're ornery this time of year and you don't want to come across one near its den, but I agree with Carlisle. It was more likely a cougar. A big one. The mauling pattern was consistent, anyway. They've been over-breeding in the park in the last few years, and they've started moving out. Killing livestock. It could have been a yearling staking territory. Or one too old and weak to chase its prey. If it was a mother defending her cubs, well that's a whole other can of worms. Whatever the case, Fish and Wildlife will have to deal with it now. A predator that's lost its fear of humans will only endanger itself in the end.

I wonder what Dave was doing out there, though? Not looking for a job, that's for damn sure. That mill closed up a few years back when the company built the newer, bigger one down the road and supposedly he runs with the Hells' Angels now. Or should I say 'ran with them'? There were tire tracks out there too, but they were old. Was he dropping off or picking up? Well, he'll never be able to tell us now.

God, what a waste. I just wish someone had been there for him when he needed it. Instead, he's a statistic. The system let him down. And I can't help wondering what a difference it might have made in his life if he'd been adopted by folks like the Cullens.

I wish I knew what it was the Quileutes have against Carlisle and his family. It's like reverse-racism, or something. Whatever the big secret it, the Makah aren't in on it. They didn't boycott the hospital when Carlisle started working there. Billy wants to make amends for not discouraging it, but he still won't tell me anything. The last thing I wanted to do was tell him that Carlisle said the kids should stay out of the woods. I thought he'd hit the roof and storm out, but he was real calm. I could see he was angry though. And almost . . . scared. I can't figure him out.

I work with Carlisle. I can't count him as a friend or even say that I know him—nobody in town knows him or his family, really. They keep to themselves and I respect that. But even if he wasn't a doctor, I, I know I'd trust him with my life. I trusted him with Bella's life. God, if I'd lost her that day . . . I have to shrug away the memory of my first sight of her as I arrived at the school ground that morning. Lying on a gurney, face white as the sheet beneath her head. One thing's for sure, Tyler won't be getting his license back any time soon.

I admit I was nervous when the Cullens first moved here. I mean, who in their right mind willingly takes on five foster kids? I've got to hand it to Carlisle and his wife for giving them a good start in life—setting them down the right path. It couldn't have been easy. Kids like that come with so much baggage. They get knocked around the system. Damaged. Dave Cohlene, case in point.

But I've never had a lick of trouble out of any of them. Not even from the big one who's built like a linebacker. In fact, until he threw himself in front of a speeding van to save my daughter's life, I probably didn't know which one of those kids Edward Cullen was.

And it's as I'm thinking about Edward Cullen that I turn on to my street and see the silver Volvo parked beside my driveway. For some reason, it doesn't occur to me to wonder who owns it. I just find myself thinking that if I had money, that's just the kind of good, safe car that I'd buy for Bella. Still, Billy's old truck's more than paid for itself, and she seems to love it.

Well, well, well . . .

I don't know why my heart drops into the pit of my stomach because I've been expecting this. She'd never brought a boy home—never even mentioned taking a liking to anyone—until Edward Cullen turned up on my doorstep yesterday. I should have known; I get paid to notice things, after all. Why was I so blind to the signs?

After the accident, she got mad every time I mentioned his name. God help me that time I brought up the subject of a reward. She nearly bit my head off. But there he was yesterday, sitting with her on the front porch. And she was grinning like the cat that got the cream, feeding me some story about bumping into him at the library. How he wanted to check out her truck.

He likes antiques, she said. Huh. I was a seventeen-year-old boy once. I know what seventeen-year-old boys like, and I don't think it's her truck. But it is in the driveway and so I park right behind, boxing it in. I shrug my jacket around my shoulders as I get out of the cruiser, not because it's cold, but because I suddenly like the feel of the gun holster beneath it. I'm thinking about boys and girls and shotguns.

My heart takes another dive as I step onto the porch and see the pair of men's shoes placed neatly on the doormat. Right beside Bella's. So close they're touching. I hadn't wanted to put two and two together before but I've got no choice now. I blow the air out of my cheeks and walk in.

"Bells?" I call, more anxiously than I mean to.

"Hey, Dad."

I hear plates and cutlery clattering around in the kitchen as I hang up my holster and remove the bullets from the gun. Just for an instant, I think about maybe leaving them in there. Jesus Christ, get a grip, Charlie.

The boy's in the living room—books spread out all over the coffee table. He stops writing when I poke my head through the doorway and stands up, ramrod straight.

"Here again are you, Edward?" Shit, why'd I say that? It just came out.

He smirks at me then looks down and away. "Hello, Chief Swan."

I nod at him: at ease, soldier. Then Igo into the kitchen. She's got potatoes baking in the microwave but there are only two steaks frying in the pan. I'm relieved. I kiss the back of her head like I'm used to doing. And I see her reflection in the window over the sink—flushed cheeks and too-bright eyes. What's been going on?

"Dinner's going to be a while, Dad. Sorry."

"That's okay. I'm not so hungry just yet." That's a lie—I'm starving. "Your friend's not staying, then?"

"Edward's been helping me study," she says curtly. "He'll be leaving soon."

"He doesn't have to." But I can't help hoping he does. I just wanted to relax and watch the game but I've ended up in the middle of an Afterschool Special instead.

I feel the need to reclaim my territory, so I circle back into the living room to—to do what? Piss on the lamppost? He's still standing there of course, only he's moved over to the mantelpiece and he's looking at the photos. He straightens the one on the end and stands rigidly at attention again, hands behind his back. Ten-hut!

And I embarrass myself, letting out a louder groan than I meant to as I collapse into my easy chair. The kid pretends not to notice. I want to turn on the TV but somehow I feel it's rude. This, in my own house! He's staring at me intently, and I have to look away. I've never been any good at small talk.

I look down again at the texts and notebooks strewn over the coffee table. "Dirty Thirties, eh?" I say, picking one up and nodding, like I knew all about it. Like I was there, or something.

The kid's smirking at me again. What's so funny? I blink and the smirk's gone and he's rocking back on his heels. "We're studying the Great Depression in History. We've got essays due this week."

"I thought you two only have Biology together."

"That's right. We're both in the accelerated stream, though. And it's a very small school."

"Hm." Great comeback, Charlie.

Where's his accent from? No; it's not so much the accent as his manners. I should be happy Bella's boyfriend's got good manners, right? But he's seventeen and he makes me think of my grandfather.

And the way he holds himself: I've never seen anyone stand so still in my life. Doesn't twitch, doesn't fidget. I'd swear he didn't even blink until I watched it happen. Twice. Deliberate-like.

"You got something you want to say, Edward?"

"Yes sir, I do." He takes a deep breath, swallows, and sweeps the hair out of his eyes. He needs a haircut.

And in a rush, he starts telling me how he and Bella got talking in class and found out what a lot they have in common. They have conversations about books and art and music, and he's never met anyone like her before. And she's smart, so smart, and she's got a good heart . . . How many times has he rehearsed this?

And then I'm not listening to his speech anymore. I'm not hearing the pretty words because I've heard enough. I can tell that she's got him, hook, line and sinker. He might not know it yet, but he's in love. It's written all over his face. He finishes by saying how much he likes her and he asks my permission—my permission—to take her out.

How am I supposed to say no to that?

He's pale and he's got huge shadows under his eyes. The cut of his nice clothes can't hide how skinny he is, either. Carlisle told me once what was wrong with him—I don't remember what it is, but I know I've seen junkies with better colour. They all have health problems, those kids. That's why they're out of school so much.

But I can tell what it is about him that Bella likes. He's serious, like she is. Artsy. He probably reads poetry. I'm guessing he doesn't play sports, either. It'd just take one fall and he'd probably bleed to death on the field. I can see he's someone else she'd want to take care of. Would he take care of her?

I don't need to remind myself that he's already saved her life once.

I realize I'm not ready for this—and that it wouldn't matter which boy she brought home. I just wish she'd stay my little girl forever. My little girl, whose smile hangs the moon and the stars. Growing up faster than I knew. I don't want her to be old enough to date. I want to forbid this because dating means holding hands and kissing, and kissing leads to . . . Jesus, Renée's already had the talk with her, right?

"Isabella!" She knows I mean business when I use her full name. "Come here, please."

She shuffles in—the look on her face saying, this had better be good.

I jerk my thumb at Edward. "I thought you told me he wasn't your boyfriend."

She makes that impatient little cough in the back of her throat that only teenage girls are capable of—where do they learn that?—and her face flushes hot. I've embarrassed her again.

"That's not what I said." Clearly, she thinks I'm an idiot.

"Yes, you did." I don't mind playing the idiot to wind her up some more. And when I glance at Edward, he's doing his best to keep a straight face, too.

But I was right before—she was trying to sneak out on Friday night. And here I thought she might have been seeing Mike Newton—she's friendly with him, and all.

I don't like her being cagey with me. "Edward, here, very politely asked if I'd let you go out with him, and I want to tell him 'yes', but you have to be straight with me, Bells."

She scowls at me. Across the room, Edward's no help at all. He's definitely biting back laughter.

"I guess he's my boyfriend," she mumbles.

"You guess?"

She brushes a hand across her hot, red face. "Yeah, he's my boyfriend."

"So, how come you couldn't tell me that yesterday?"

"I don't know." She shrugs. "I thought that maybe you wouldn't approve."

"Is there a reason I shouldn't approve?" My voice is sharp. I look from one to the other as she goes to stand beside him. Of course there isn't, but I can't help yanking her chain again. And I'd like to think that underneath that smooth exterior, he might be just a little nervous.

"No. Edward's a good person."

I sigh inwardly. Of course he is. I trust Bella's judgment. She's always been so much wiser than her years.

"So, you can trust this guy?" I fold my arms over my chest. She nods. "And, I can too?"

"Yes." And the look she gives him seals it. I can't say no.

"Well, then. You don't need to ask my permission, Edward. Bella's old enough to decide for herself, and I trust her."

But this is still my house and she is under eighteen. I need to set some ground rules. "What was your curfew in Phoenix?"

"Um, I didn't have one."

I was afraid of that. Renée and I never exactly saw eye-to-eye when it came to discipline. I know I can't exactly initiate one now, especially if I'm not going to be at home every night to enforce it. I do some quick thinking.

"Okay, here's my deal: I want you home by nine on school nights. No exceptions. You're seventeen-and-a-half, so weekends are your own. Does that sound fair?"

"Yeah."

I turn to the boy. "And I can trust you to make sure she gets home on time, no matter what?"

"You have my word," he says, and I can tell he means it. "I'll take care of her, Chief Swan. No matter what."

We shake on it, all three of us. His grip is firm, but cold. On account of his condition, I guess. This is a binding agreement as far as I'm concerned. There's nothing more to be said.

And I want to believe this kid because I like him. I want to believe in happy ever after endings but I know there won't be one. He's the first boy she's ever brought home, but he won't be the last. Because they'll outgrow each other and one of them will realize it before the other does, and they'll break up. Just like Renée outgrew this town and outgrew me. That's the way life works.

Bella's run back to the kitchen to check on dinner. I wish I had an excuse to leave the room too because suddenly everything feels really awkward. I have no idea what to say to this kid. He's not staying, is he? I remind myself that there were only two steaks in the frying pan. Not knowing what else to do, I switch on the TV and flip channels until I find the game.

"What do you think the Sonics' chances are this year?"

He shrugs. "I wouldn't pick them to get past the semi-finals." He responds carefully; he knows what he's talking about but he doesn't want to offend.

"Not a basketball fan?"

"I guess I prefer baseball."

"Baseball, eh? Mariners?"

He shakes his head. "Cubs."

"No kidding? Well, that's too bad for you."

He laughs. "Lately, yes. But they used to do okay."

"Ha! 'Fraid I can't remember that far back. Why the Cubs?"

"I'm from Chicago, originally."

"Oh. I thought you came from Alaska."

The pause he makes before he replies is so short that I almost don't notice it. "Most recently. But we've moved around a lot. My father's work takes him all over the country."

"So you were adopted in Chicago?"

"That's right."

"Still got family back there?"

"No." And there's something in his voice—a dark flicker in his eyes—that makes it clear any more discussion about his background is off-limits. He looks as uncomfortable as I feel. Am I supposed to tell him that I'm sorry? I never have been any good at small talk. I just really wish those steaks would hurry up and fry.

"That your Volvo out front?" I finally say, and his grin's back in a flash. He's proud of it.

"Manual?" Of course it is; I already know that.

"Six speed."

"What kind of mileage you get?"

"On the roads out here, almost twenty miles to the gallon."

I hear my low whistle and the words slip out of my mouth again before I can stop them. "Your dad buy it for you?" There's no way a kid could afford a vehicle like that, no matter how many summer jobs he worked or how long he saved.

He looks like he's swallowed something nasty, and I know I've embarrassed him. He probably doesn't like me making a big deal about the fact that his family's got money. Sometimes, it's just as hard for the rich kids as for the poor ones.

"Do you want a beer, Dad?" Bella pokes her head in just at that moment, can already in hand. She must have been listening behind the door, but right now I kind of welcome the distraction.

"Aw thanks, honey." I take a bigger swig than I should, but the cold lager feels good as it hits the back of my throat. I figure I could probably use another one after this.

"Supper won't be long now," she murmurs, turning to go back in the kitchen, and he takes this as his cue to start packing his books up.

"You sure you won't stay, Edward? I mean Bella can throw another steak on. We've got more in the freezer don't we, hun?"

"Um . . . " She spins around and I don't know why she's looking so anxious. But he's got the sense to know that I've only really asked to be polite.

"Oh. Uh, no thank you. I wouldn't want to impose on a school night. Actually, I should be going. It's supper time at my house too."

Bella's by his side like a shot. He takes her hand and squeezes it. And would you look at her face! Actually, I can't. She used to look at me that way.

"I'll see you out," she says.

"Good night, Chief Swan."

My, what nice manners you have. "Nice meeting you, Edward." I wave the beer in his direction and turn back to the TV. Not that I'm not seeing anything on the screen in front of me.

I don't get up until they're out the door, then God help me, I watch through the living room window. I'm in shadow, so I don't think they'll see me. Shit. Sit down Charlie, if you know what's good for you. I can't hear what they're saying, but it's an intense little conversation. He's holding onto both her hands. So it's like that already.

He doesn't kiss her when he takes his leave—and I'm glad—just traces a finger along the length of her jaw. Wow. And would you look at her glow! I know I should turn away, but I can't.

You'd better be good to her, I find myself thinking. Because if you ever hurt her, your life won't be worth living.

And just for an instant, as he's getting into the car, he gives me this look that makes me wonder if he's heard the very thoughts in my head.

Must be strangely exciting to watch the stoic squirm
Must be somewhat exciting to watch shepherd meet shepherd
But you, you're not allowed. You're uninvited.
An unfortunate slight. ~Alanis Morisette