A BULLET FROM CHEKHOV'S GUN

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Chapter Sixteen

Edward was back on the phone with Alice before Bella's cab was out of sight.

"Tell me more about this threat. I thought the chatter was nonspecific!"

"It was." He could hear the clatter of rapid fingers on a keyboard in the background. "I can clear the traffic in front of you, or Bella first. I can't do both at once."

"Bella. She has farther to go. You'll just have to clean up after me." Edward slammed the car door. He spun the tires pulling out of the car park, painting the concrete with a smear of black rubber. The fucking car wasn't fast enough.

"I will. Hurry, Edward."

He threw the phone down onto the passenger seat and floored it, passing three cars at a time.

The phone rang again before he'd made it even halfway back to headquarters. "Fuck!" He groped for the damned thing—he'd only owned this car for a few hours, he hadn't set up the Bluetooth yet.

"Brief me on this threat."

"I can't—something's happened."

"What?!" Edward shouted. "Is Bella all right?"

"She's still in her taxi, but… the agent tailing the threat lost contact—"

"Fucking hell!" He slammed on the brakes and pulled the steering wheel hard over into a sliding U-turn. Horns honked all around him, middle fingers were raised. Edward didn't care.

Alice waited until Edward stopped swearing. "I'm watching Bella and the threat both by satellite. She should make it back to her flat first, but… it'll be close."

"Fuck, can't you get in his way? Throw up red lights, do the opposite of what you're doing for Bella!"

"I am, Edward! Bloody hell, I'm one woman! I've got people working on it, but he's on a motorbike, and he's using it! I can barely keep him on camera!"

"All right, Alice, all right. Look, just tell me what you know. Does the Chief know about this?"

"Of course she does. She's here with me now."

Oh shit. Somehow, this was even more serious than Edward thought.

"Bella's name's been coming up in Eastern European mafia channels all month."

"I know that—fuck!" Edward reversed and headed the wrong way down a one-way street, two tires up on the curb. "We were supposed to be monitoring the situation."

"We were. Something happened tonight, all of a sudden there was a plan. Shit!"

"What?"

"I just got the report from the other agent. Threat is armed, visual confirmation. We're sure the plan is kidnap, but he's going to take your Bella by force, looks like."

"I won't let it happen. I have a GOD bag and a rifle in the van. He won't come near her."

There was nothing for a while but the purr of Edward's engine and the ambient noise of Alice in his ear. As he drove, he slipped deeper into Agent Cullen, leaving Edward-the besotted fool who flirted over dinner with the girl he fancied-farther behind with each mile.

Alice sighed in relief and Edward felt a little of the tension leave his shoulders. "She's in her flat, but he's close."

"Good. So am I. Get Esme to authorize the kill order."

"You're go."

Edward hung up once more. He ditched his car on a side street and sprinted to the surveillance van, swearing when he found the door locked. The key made a long gash in the first L in CROWLEY'S FLOORING AND TILE logo before his eyes adjusted to the dark.

Hunched over inside the van, Edward shoved all the detritus of his surveillance—laptop, notes, earphones, pens—onto the floor. In a cubby above the blank TV screens were two black ballistic nylon bags. He grabbed both, throwing one to the end of the now-empty work bench. From the other he withdrew his partially disassembled rifle. With the surety of habit he snapped the pieces together and slid the magazine home. Once he'd set the rifle down, he finally took the time to find a radio earpiece and put it in.

"Testing, one-two. Testing, one-two. 007 here." He popped the back door open. "Please advise."

"007, copy. Are you in place?"

"Affirmative." Edward stretched his long frame out on the counter—he barely fit. Down the alley from where the van was parked, Edward could see the street in front of Bella's flat. He adjusted his scope and worked to calm his breathing. Fierce as he felt, he was liable to abandon stealth entirely and just kill the motherfucker with his bare hands. "Target description?"

"Male, caucasian, over six feet, dark hair and eyes. Jeans and a hoodie, on a red motorbike. Confirmed armed. Over."

"Tracking. ETA?"

"Two minutes."

"Copy." Edward slid the bolt back. The metallic clink was a delicious sound to his ears.

"Target is approaching."

"Copy."

"Be advised, be advised—your contact is leaving her flat!"

"The fuck?!" Edward pulled away from his scope. He could see that yes, Bella was jogging down the steps in front of her flat. She was shivering in the cold and had a black plastic trash bag in her hand.

"Target is approaching! 100 meters!"

Edward gritted his teeth and focused downrange. With the curve of the street, the target would have to get uncomfortably close to Bella before Edward could pull the trigger. The angles were poor. This would have to be one of the best shots of his life.

Through his scope, Edward watched the target get off his motorbike and stalk up to Bella. She noticed him. He pulled a handgun from his waistband behind his back. She dropped her weight back onto her right leg and balled her fists.

Was she going to try to resist?

No. NO.

Edward didn't have time to think anymore. This target wasn't coming in alive. He settled his crosshairs over the target's center mass. His last thought before pulling the trigger was that he wished Bella could go inside first.

The bullet tore through the target's shoulder and twisted his torso around. He dropped his gun and reached out, grabbing Bella's pajama top. Edward watched, helpless, as the target pulled Bella down with him in a tangle of limbs. He was dead before he hit the ground, half pinning Bella.

"007! 007! Do you copy?"

"I copy." Bella wasn't getting up. Why wasn't Bella getting up?

"Do you have visual on my contact?" he asked.

"Standby," the voice said. "Target appears unconscious. Standby."

Edward was already on his feet, crouched by the open door. He had the bag full of currency and documents in one hand, the other on the doorframe when he made himself stop and think. It took every iota of discipline he had—gleaned from thousands of hours of assiduous training—to stay in place. Not to run to her.

"We have 999 reports already, emergency services have been dispatched. Exfil immediately. Over."

Edward had no fucking clue how he was expected to just leave her there.

"We'll take care of her, 007. Exfil now."

"Copy."

Edward walked in a daze back to his car. It started to rain as he drove to MI6 HQ.

Edward was pacing the living room of Bella's small flat. He pulled at his hair. It was three in the morning, she should've been home from hospital already. He should've met her there. He never should've listened to Esme. Why wasn't she here? He had just pulled his keys from his pocket and started for the door when he heard a key in the lock. He turned to face the door as Bella walked through, shoulders slumped and obviously exhausted. She ran her hand through her hair, pulling it back from her face, and started, noticing the strange man in her apartment for the first time.

"What are you doing here?"

Edward had his lie ready. "You weren't answering your phone. I was worried, and had your landlord let me in…"

Bella patted the phone in her coat pocket, as if just then remembering it was there.

"Oh, yeah… I was… I had to go to the hospital."

"Are you all right? You look so pale…" Edward walked towards her slowly, and raised a reassuring hand to cup her cheek. He ran his thumb along the dark skin beneath her eyes. "Why don't I make you some tea?"

"Yeah, that sounds good." Bella took a deep breath in her nose to calm herself, and her nostrils flared as a smoky, metallic scent filled her nose. Her eyes snapped open and she looked at Edward with horror. She jumped back.

Edward dropped his hand. It stung from where he'd touched her, from where she'd pulled away in fear. He knew what she'd smelled. He looked at her, pleading with his eyes.

"Bella-"

"Edward. I think you need to leave. Now."

She slid away from the door but kept her back pressed against the wall. She opened the safety lock with a trembling hand. She wouldn't look at him as he passed by her.

"I'm so sorry, Bella."

Edward walked out of Bella's flat and into the English spring rain, alone and sure that everything was over.

AN: Thanks to my beta, Sara ( abadkitty).

Hi all. I've had a HELLUVA week and I want to extend a double-extra-special thank you to everyone who's wished me well via Twitter, etc. Also, welcome to my slew of new readers!