Warning: This chapter contains graphic depictions of sexual, violent and disturbing situations that may be upsetting to some readers. While I understand this may not be for all readers and I welcome all reviews, I am not interested in entertaining insults or opinions that do not pertain to the entire story. Please keep in mind that as the author I do know where I plan on taking the story and what is necessary to get me there. With that said, please enjoy.

Disclaimer: I do not own anything Twilight related.

Thank-you to my lovely wife Cutestkidsmom, my pre-reader Pricana, and my beta Eternally Edward's Girl for their help and encouragement.

Chapter 21

I grin to myself as Bella retreated from the room, embarrassed and flustered. I'm not sure why, but I really enjoy picking on her; not in a permanent damage kind of way but a battle of wits and one-upping each other. It was an intricate web of mutual respect, infuriating frustration and grudging admiration we have for each other.

"Edward Cullen, you did that on purpose!" Shenani gets up in my face. "Bella tried to give us all an amazing gift, a Christmas that we could all feel welcome and at home with, and you used her giving spirit against her!" Her face is flushed, as her verbal onslaught is joined by the others.

"Not cool man…" Jake backs up Shenani.

"What possible reason would you have for doing that?" Ben seems perplexed.

"You always do this, why can't we just have a good time for once?" Alice is close to tears.

"Yes, you are real tit-ass!" Demetri looks pleased with his insult until the others look at him confused. "Is not nice what he did…" he mumbles.

"C'mon guys, that was priceless. Did you see her face? After all, she started this little back and forth…" I trail off as my mother catches my eye.

"Edward, dear, a word?" Her tone leaves no room for interpretation, this is not a request.

I follow her and my father Carlisle into an adjacent room and am taken aback by my father's normally calm demeanor being replaced by raw anger.

"What in the actual fuck is wrong with you?" he snarls at me in hushed tones. "Are you trying to alienate your entire family from this organization? Or has your mother coddled you so much that you don't even realize anymore when you are acting like complete idiot?"

"Carlisle, I think we can salvage this, after all it was simply a…" My mother stops talking when my father catches her eye and moves a hand to his ring. It is a signal I know well, not many people are aware, but my quiet unassuming father is the dominant in their relationship and my mother is submissive to him. He would twist his ring as a signal to her that she is on thin ice. If the ring came off, well mother never let it come to that; not after the first time.

"I am going to go back inside and apologize to Charles for your behavior." My father looks at my mother and growls, "Deal with this; I don't expect to have to discuss this again." And he walks out of the room.

"Edward, you can't keep acting this way. Your position in the organization is tenuous at best; having not been accepted into any faction is something you and this girl have in common. I don't understand why you feel the need to pick on her so much." My mother glares at me the way she did when I was a kid and had done something wrong. She doesn't understand and I can't tell her. My position in the organization is more secure than anyone's, even hers.

"I'll take care of it, you don't have to worry." I try to placate her; I have things to do and can't be bothered with this.

"See that you do, I'm not running interference for you on this again." She kisses my cheek as she walks past. "You are a Cullen, Edward. Like it or not, that name means something here and you need to live up to it." She leaves me alone standing there with my secrets.

I go back to the party and lay low, I don't want to anger my father anymore and no one was really interested in engaging in conversation with the social pariah I have made myself with the ill-conceived prank on Bella. I notice Charles leave abruptly after a call and curiously follow. He waits by the front door and after a brief exchange with Garrett I overhear what had happened. Someone had taken Bella, there was no point in jumping in right now, I had to get permission first from the only people that matter in my particular position.

I slip out to a secluded area and make a call on my phone. I haven't had to use this number yet but I know the protocol. It rang twice before a nondescript voice picked up.

"Identify."

"Cullen, Edward; Twenty-one Eight Seven." I reply

"Wait one." The line goes dead I know what to expect.

Two minutes later my phone rings and I pick it up. "Report." The no-nonsense voice intones.

"I have a member abduction: Swan, Bella. Request permission to involve myself, possible need to requisition a team for assault and extract. I need to gather more intel but my timeline is four hours." I breathe evenly as I wait for the response.

"Wait one…" The line is quiet as my request is considered through whatever channels my particular faction uses. "Intel gathering approved, further interaction prohibited pending conference with faction lead. Conference call scheduled twenty minutes from now, details will be sent to your phone." The line goes dead as my phone beeps and begins downloading the encrypted details of my meeting. Nineteen minutes, I have to move fast.

I go searching for the others. Their talents will be useful to me in such a short window; anyone else would take too long to get here. I round a corner and catch the tail-end of Garrett assigning tasks to them. It seems he has the same idea I have. I take advantage of it and am happy he has saved me the trouble of explaining things to them. I wait until he is gone before I step out and address them.

"Guys, I know you are pissed at me. I might deserve it but right now I want to help." I look at their faces, they are concerned for Bella and hopefully that means they will take all the help they can get.

"How are you planning on helping?" Jake is speaking for the group now that I am on the outs with them.

"We don't have time to get into that right now, just please share anything you come up with so I can bounce it off my resources." I text Jake my private cell number and tell them to send information to me as they get it; I have a meeting to get to.

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.

.

I lock myself in an office with two minutes to spare and start to gather my thoughts. I have never had a reason to confer with the head of the Black Collars since my indoctrination. The assassination and elite special operations faction; no one even knew of its existence unless you were a member or informed on a 'need to know' basis. Right now, no one needed to know.

My phone beeps and the video conference begins. The image of a strikingly beautiful woman behind a desk comes into focus. She is the most feared and capable assassin in Black Collars. Sabrina Epperson is as ruthless as she is beautiful and as deadly as she is intelligent. I know this meeting will make or break me, she will dissect and read into anything that is said, I have to be very careful.

"Mr. Cullen, I have been briefed on your request and require some details as well as justification from you. Why should I allow you to risk exposure for a cause that is, quite frankly, not something I can see benefiting our faction in any way?" Her words are clipped and succinct. This is not going to be easy, and if I get my way I will be indebted to this woman, a dangerous position at best, a fatal one at worst.

"I am attempting to ingratiate myself to Mr. Swan since my current relationship with Bella is not one that fosters trust. I also see her as a potential recruit since, like me, she was not accepted by any faction. She has value…" even as I say the words I see the corners of Ms. Epperson's lips twitch in a half-hidden smile.

"Value? What value is that? All reports I have received state that she is unsuitable for any of the known factions and what successes she has had are inconsistent anomalies. So unless 'blind luck' is going to become a new skillset we value, I fail to see the point in continuing this conversation." She moves to terminate the call; my window of opportunity is closing.

"Wait, there is one more thing. Based on the knowledge I have gathered, there is evidence that indicates this is the work of someone attacking the organization." That is a stretch but I am desperate. "This falls directly under our mandate to protect members of the organization from any potential outside threat, an oath we both swore before God. It's an oath I take seriously, as I know you do too." I am on shaky ground here and we both know it.

"Don't you dare think to impugn my honor, boy!" Her eyes are livid at my dangerous inference. "I will decide what constitutes a 'potential threat'. However, your words, though chosen foolishly, may have merit. Standard conditions will apply, no one is to know of this group's existence and should you be compromised you will cease to be useful to us. I will provide you with a twelve man team and use of the restricted files for your investigation. Oh, and Edward, dear…"

"Yes Ms. Epperson?" I know what her next words will be before she says them.

"If this turns out to be a simple abduction, or a childish prank on Ms. Swan's part to get attention, well then you will have wasted my time. Worse yet, you will have wasted the time and resources of this branch of the organization. I don't think I need to tell you what that means do I?" She frowns at me and I feel a chill down my spine. She disconnects the call before I can answer. The message is clear.

My next stop is Garrett's room. It goes about as well as expected but I get enough info to get started, the details the others will provide would round out my search and allow me to pinpoint the who and the where. The why would require a more subtle approach.

The steady stream of info allows me to put together a fairly simple assault and retrieval plan. I know Garrett would want to make a few cosmetic changes but it is a sound plan and he will see the value of it once he is brought up to speed.

I run all the iterations of the letters Bella had left as clues and plug them into the Black Collar mainframe. The most sophisticated search algorithms and artificial intelligence in the world go to work analyzing every detail and compiling a list of suspects and probabilities. I am shocked that I receive a list of probable suspects as long as my arm. I change the parameters to a ninety percent probability or higher, I have a lot riding on this, there is no room for error.

The results come through quickly and provide me with a short list, a very short list. Only two individuals fit the profile with the parameters I provide. I retrieve their file and pursue it as I print it out. As I read I have a sinking feeling that we are running out of time. These characters are no joke; they are sadistic and as vicious as they come.

I think to myself for the first time that Bella may already be dead. She is of no further use to them alive if all they want is to press an engagement. I can only hope that they have some other purpose in store for her; something that will force them to keep her alive until we can get to her. I try to think of what that might be, but come up blank. I try and hold onto the thought that maybe I am missing something.

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.

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By the time we finish our meeting and all the findings are revealed to Garrett, I know for certain we are dealing with the Whitlock brothers. The picture Ben pulled from the car's camera is unmistakable next to the other evidence we have. I run it through the system to see what the odds are now and it comes back at three one-thousandths of a percentile point shy of a perfect match. We have the who and the where, it is time to get the why.

I prepare my team with Garrett's updated mission plan and bring the new people Garrett had insisted on from his security team up to speed. We are waiting to go when my mother messages me and requests a word before I leave with the team. I meet her and my Father in the same room I had been reprimanded in just hours earlier. My mother embraces me and seems nervous.

"Edward, I have spoken to Charles, no one expects you to accompany the team on the rescue operation; you have already done so much. I don't know where you acquired the team or the information you have gathered in such a short time. I have been a member of this organization long enough to know better than to ask. But you need to step back from this, if it ends badly I don't want our family associated with it. We can't afford to have an enemy like Charles Swan or Garrett for that matter." She can tell from my face that she is wasting her breath but she has to try.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence Mother. Did it ever occur to you that I might succeed, and in so doing, forge a new alliance between our two families? Think about it. If I am successful, our families will be joined and unstoppable within the organization. If I fail, well then believe me when I tell you that will not be a problem you will have to deal with for long. Other parties have taken a greater interest in the outcome of this than you or father." I have said as much as I am going to on that front, I hope it is not too much.

"What does that mean? Is someone threatening you son?" My father is a quiet man but he would not let something like that pass.

"No father, I have made commitments to get me as far as I have." I move to leave. "We all have. I'm seeing this through." I leave before they can talk me out of it. I hear my mother break down and cry as I close the door. I can't think about that now, I have work to do.

I travel in silence to the location the assault will take place. I am going over the steps in my mind, listening to the drone in my ear from the command center. Ben gives a play by play of sentry movements and any changes in positioning of defenses since our last update during the briefing a short time ago. I am ready to do what I have to, my training is kicking in; I control my breathing and check the clip in my sidearm. I check the chamber for a round even though I know it is there. I notice some of the older, more experienced men watching me, likely thinking 'Who is this kid?' or 'Greenie' at my nervous habits. I force myself to relax and stop fidgeting.

The vehicle stops and we wait for the all clear to move out. We disperse silently and take up our positions waiting on the go or no go call from Ben. We don't wait long, phase one is given the green light and the men selected to engage the outer defensive structures strike hard.

Flashbangs and unsuppressed machinegun fire split the eerie silence. If our opponents have any sense they will know they are under attack in seconds and will respond with textbook defensive tactics.

They fall for the distraction just as predicted. These men are not disciplined soldiers; they are guns for hire, loyal to a paycheck and little else. Their egos will not allow them to retreat until it is too late, they will be overrun before they even know the battle is lost. I feel a tap at my arm, Garrett is signaling us to move out.

We have a straight run across the open ground to the main building. The sounds of battle around us and the screams of the dying as defensive positions are overrun. I let my training kick in completely and carry me through the field of battle. We encounter little resistance; the sentries at the door go down to Garrett's and my bullets. I notice he is using his large caliber pistol and give no thought to the loud report that gives our position away with every squeeze of the trigger. My own weapon, a heavily modified and suppressed H&K Mp5 nine-millimeter sub-machine gun is just as efficient even if it is a little more subtle. I keep a mental tally of rounds and cycle my weapon expertly when I start to run dry.

Garrett stops checking on me after the first few engagements and we settle into a lethal rhythm of death as we move through the building. We meet our foes on their own ground and dispatch them with lethal efficiency, leaving the bodies where they fall.

We come to a room that could not have looked more obviously like a holding cell if it had been decorated with a neon sign that said 'Captives Here!' We swing the door open and enter in a defensive posture. 'Slicing the pie' as the old SWAT term went, we check the corners behind us as we enter. I take stock of the room and see Bella on the ground; she is beat to hell and does not appear to be breathing. Garrett nods to me to take care of her as he moves to take control of the figure surrendering at the back of the room.

I drop my weapon on the table and tear off my gloves and Kevlar balaclava. I check her for vitals and find none. I do a quick check of her injuries and determine that at least three ribs are broken. CPR is out; I would kill her just by doing chest compressions. I clear her airway and begin artificial respiration. I key my communications lash between breaths and call for a medic. She needs more care than I can give her; I just have to keep her brain alive until help arrives.

"Come on Bella, breathe…." I breathe into her mouth again; I see her chest rise and fall.

Nothing!

"Goddammit, Bella, you have to breathe!" I am getting light headed, even in the physical shape I am in there is no way I will be able to keep this up for long. My own lungs are on fire but adrenaline is keeping me going. I keep breathing into her, still getting nothing.

"Just breathe Bella … one breath, that's all I ask ..."

Nothing ... She is gone, we're too late.

*AN*
Fic Recommendations - Please check out Salacious and Because of a Boy by Cutestkidsmom (my darling wife) and Love Through Another's Eyes by EternallyEdwardsGirl (My beta). Also check out this weeks FOTW winners on TLS!