Summary: New Moon A/U. Bella stays on La Push, contemplating her life while the wolves protect her from Victoria. We protect the people we love, don't we?

A Sound of Thunder

Bella sat quietly in Jacob's room, alone. Like the air outside the window, she remained quite still. Waiting.

It felt as though she'd spent her whole life waiting for something, always something. Waiting for her mother to come pick her up from daycare after a long day of waitressing and university classes. Waiting for school to be over for the day, for the year. Waiting for it to start again. Waiting for Renee to find a boyfriend. Waiting for her to dump her boyfriend, or for him to dump her, so she could find another boyfriend. Waiting for the pizza man to get there, because whatever came from Renee's stove scared away all the neighborhood children and stray dogs. Waiting for visits to—or from—Charlie. Waiting for child support checks. Waiting for her turn at the check-out, her turn to steer the driver's ed car, her turn to spin the bottle (Juan Martinez was a terrible kisser, but then Bella was just happy his braces didn't interlock with hers). Waiting for crowded planes to land and uncomfortable car trips to end. Waiting for the constant Washington rain to stop.

Waiting for her own life to start.

Waiting for her turn to fall in love.

Waiting for the bottom to fall out, the other shoe to drop, the bubble to burst, all the expressions that meant her joy was coming to an end.

When it finally did happen (did she will it to happen, or was she simply aware that nature abhors a vacuum, especially a happiness vacuum?), Bella thought her waiting was done. The worst thing that could possibly happen to her had happened. She'd hit rock bottom. There was nothing left to lose and nowhere to go but up.

But, as it turned out, she did have something left to lose; she learned that the moment Laurent showed up and started blabbing about Victoria and all her deviant plans. All of a sudden Bella's life was filled with a slew of interesting people again, mortal danger at immortal hands, secrets and lies. A new large clan of fighters swore up, down, and sideways that they'd defend her.

Like she'd never heard that before.

It was an obligation, not an act of love. Bella was depressed and downtrodden enough to believe that the Quileutes didn't care about her except as a means to an end—such was her experience with supernatural beings. They weren't bad people, Jake's pack of brothers, but their love was for their own families and their tribe first and foremost. Victoria was a threat to that. Sure, it would have been easy to simply hand Bella over to her, but there was no guarantee that Victoria would stay gone afterward, and Bella knew Sam wouldn't quite be able to look Emily in the eye after willingly giving up an innocent victim. So they hatched a plan instead. Jared had referred to Bella as bait, and in spite of Jacob's protests, she knew that's how the others saw her, too. Sam placed his bait in one cage or another and set about the task of catching a killer.

It was proving to be a task too daunting for the wolves to achieve. Everything was getting wildly out of hand. Every few days there was another murder, though of course the locals still thought they were animal attacks. People were starting to demand that something be done. Bella realized she had something besides her own life to lose: Charlie.

Charlie, who couldn't come see her every weekend of her childhood like divorced parents who live in the same town as their kids, but still wanted to be with Bella. Who took her on vacation every summer and came to see her in Phoenix every Christmas. Who taught her how to shoot his firearms at age twelve even though Renee forbade it, because he knew Bella was curious, and because it was one of the only things she'd ever genuinely wantedto do with him in Forks. Who only ever said "I love you" over the phone, always awkwardly or in a rush, but in sixteen years never once missed a weekly phone call, not even when Bella was a baby and didn't understand what was going on. Charlie, who jumped at the chance to have Bella live with him again, even if he had absolutely no clue what to do with her when she got there. Who stuck by her side and kept hope alive when Bella's entire Edward-centered world collapsed. Charlie—Dad—who Bella loved more dearly than she ever thought possible.

Chief Swan was not a man to hide in his office until someone else took responsibility for a bad situation. At the moment he was combing the forest with a dozen other men, hunting down giant wolf-bear-hybrid whatevers, trying to make his town a safe place again for residents and tourists. It was a really small town, and visitors only ever came to Forks because they felt secure enough to start their nature hikes or kayaking expeditions from here. Word of mouth was everything to a place like this, and eight dead bodies in two months was enough to scare away every previous and potential tourist Forks would ever have for the next ten years at least. For all his discomfort with emotional expression, Charlie loved his community, and he would not see everything he held dear crumble because of one rabid animal. He had his father's Winchester and every intention of using it, and he damn well made certain everyone he knew was armed and ready to protect their loved ones.

Bella, who naturally could not be left home all alone, was secured with people Charlie trusted. Spring Break was spent ensconced on the reservation, waiting for news that the wolves she'd slowly begun to lose confidence in had failed again, confused by the wind or tricked by a redoubled trail or outpaced by a speed their arrogance couldn't match. She waited to hear that this time her father had been killed instead of some stranger.

She lasted all of about five seconds before she burst into tears. An hour of painful weeping brought no changes and no information, until finally she stopped and began pondering the situation from different angles, starting with the pack. Not as canines, but as boys.

It wasn't their fault. She knew that. Deep down, Sam and the rest of them thought of vampires as creatures, mindless things knowing only base emotions and predatory instincts. In our stories, they usually get pretty pissed off if you kill their mate. Sam's crew didn't understand that vampire minds work in clever, imaginative ways, their memories don't diminish over time, and their emotional wounds don't heal or fade just because years have passed. Esme, poor Esme, was still grieving to this day for her infant son who died over eighty years ago. James had been irritated to the point of provoking a fight with a coven of seven and making a psychotic snuff film just because Alice had escaped his appetite decades ago. When it came to killing a vampire's mate, pretty pissed off didn't even begin to cover it.

For Victoria, this obsession would never have to end, and that was a critical point Sam didn't quite grasp. The pack was made up of living men; they had to patrol in shifts so they could rest, eat cooked meals, pee, go to school or work, check in with their families, and report to the tribal council. Victoria would never tire, she had no duties to attend, and no one would ask her to explain herself; she'd never need to do anything more than feed, and in that regard she had no discretion and no shortage of fresh supplies. The wolves had weaknesses where Victoria had advantages. Eventually she would catch one of them alone; their forces were divided now, trying to protect the reservation, guard Charlie, guard Bella when she went home for the night, and sniff out hiding places. A stealthy vampire could easily exterminate one wolf. Then another. And another. She would slaughter Jacob for certain—she might even save him for last, if she thought it would torture Bella to do so. Even if she didn't kill them all, the only thing she needed to do was wait out the survivors long enough to sneak past them, because most of all, Victoria had time. She could subject Charlie to a slow, painful death and make Bella watch. She could kidnap Renee and do it all over again. She might even snatch up a few local children to snack on while she had her fun. There was nothing to stop her from keeping Bella imprisoned for years and systematically destroying every single thing Bella had ever cared about before finally getting on with the physical mutilation. For a vampire hell bent on revenge, there were no limits but the extent of her inventiveness and patience.

Discretion, self-restraint, and morality were the limits of apathetic, emotionally distant, absentee vampires who liked to pat themselves on the back for having "a conscience."

"I'll be at the beach," she told Billy, striding swiftly through the door, her heavy backpack thumping along with every step.

Billy watched Isabella go, aware that she made a stop in the makeshift garage first. He wasn't stupid—he knew she and Jake had been repairing motorcycles. Charlie wouldn't thank him for it, but Billy understood the importance of putting yourself into something else when you've lost a loved one, so he allowed it. It didn't bother him in the slightest when Bella took off in a different direction than the beach. She'd been there every day, and the sky looked like it might open sooner rather than later. He wouldn't find out where she'd gone until later, when someone found a white slip of paper on Jake's work table, weighed down by a socket wrench.

Bella sat atop the highest cliff, the one she'd seen Sam jump from, and watched the storm clouds gather over the sea as the air pressure dropped. Her legs dangled over the edge, nothing between her toes and the seawater but three hundred feet of empty space. It terrified her, and yet it did not. The terror felt good, like she was clinging to something. The Not felt good too, like letting something else go.

"Bella," the voice called inside her head. Edward's voice, soft and careful rather than angry. For months she'd been actively seeking out this very thing, but now she tried to ignore it. She hummed peacefully to herself and watched the clouds flicker with internal lightning.

"Don't do this," he pleaded.

I don't have a lot of options, she found herself thinking in his direction. She shook her head, making her body wobble precariously. Fat lot of good it did, listening to a creation of her own mind. Justifying herself to it was downright ridiculous.

"Please. For me," the voice urged persistently.

Don't you dare ask me to do anything for you, Edward Cullen. My whole world is crumbling and you. Aren't. Here. Bella sighed, resigning herself to the idea that she was arguing with an auditory hallucination. It was the only real indulgence she had left, and not much of one at that. I'm not waiting for you to show up and save the day.

The first of the raindrops began to hit Bella's face, carried inland by the wind. She closed her eyes for a moment, lifting her face to the water. Why had she ever wasted so much energy hating the rain?

"For Charlie, then."

She stared down into the churning surf, and she wasn't afraid any more.

This is for Charlie.

Cautiously, she reached into her backpack and pulled out her father's off-duty weapon, the one he'd given to Billy in case the rabid, man-eating beast came close to the house. The gun Billy thoughtlessly shoved into a sock drawer, because he knew it would be useless against a vampire. The very same short-barreled 9mm pistol Charlie purchased when Bella was twelve years old.

"Please…" Edward sounded watery, far away.

Please, Bella had begged six years ago, all knobby knees and big brown eyes watching her dad clean his weapons at the kitchen table. Teach me how to use this one.

"These aren't toys," he'd warned her, voice firm and clear. "They're tools. I only use them to protect people."

Please, Daddy? I'll love you forever and ever and ever…

A constable of sea ravens took flight and scattered, startled by a sound of thunder.

Inspired by a short story of the same name by Ray Bradbury.