Raum

Snare


[2014-02-17] Thank you for the warm welcome you offered to VampCharlie! Let's see Bella's reaction.


Chapter 30

The Last Human


The drive from Bellingham to Vancouver was the last chance Edward had to talk with Bella alone before their flight, and he had too many things to tell her. He was uncertain what reaction she would have upon learning that her father had been turned into a vampire, and he couldn't risk anything slowing down their escape. So he resolved to wait until they arrived at the safe house before revealing that Charlie wasn't dead. The vision he'd seen in Alice's mind was something else Edward wasn't going to talk about, although it continued to haunt him.

The crossing into Canada went smoothly. As they sped into British Columbia on Highway 99, Bella glanced back at the country they were leaving behind. It was like shutting a gate behind herself without knowing when–or even if–she would come back.

Following Edward's return from his hunt, she'd kept herself from pestering him with questions. Behind his usual kind and reassuring attitude, she could see how his worries were tormenting him, so she gave him some space, sure that he would initiate the conversation when he was ready. The knowledge that she couldn't offer him more help saddened her. Since she and Edward had met, Bella had found in him a haven always ready to welcome her. He was her rock, and if she hadn't been reached by the angry waters in their full force during the storm they were facing, it was because he was shielding her, taking the worst of the blows for her. But who would reassure him? To whom could he turn for help?

Edward calculated the short time they had left in the car before they reached the airport, where they would take a plane north; it wouldn't allow him to offer her more than a scanty report about what he'd seen in the woods. "I went back to the lodge," he began. "It was completely destroyed by the fire."

"Did the Volturi do it?"

He nodded. "There's more. There's a corpse among the ruins, and chances are it belongs to one of Charlie's assistants."

Bella pressed her hands to her mouth, trying to steady herself. Her father had invested all his energies in a project that was meant to find the truth about a series of homicides, and to prevent other people from being harmed. He would have been devastated to learn that his research had caused the death of someone who was working with him. But Charlie wasn't there...

She found the courage to ask Edward what she was dreading most. "How do you know it's one of the assistants? What if it's Charlie, instead?"

"No, Bella." Edward's tone was firm, without a trace of doubt. "On the contrary, don't give up hope for your father."

His words left her astonished. "Weren't you the one who told me that he's been taken by two vampires? That there wasn't any possibility that he would survive?"

"I can't tell you more right now. But you know I would never lie to you. I'm asking you for more patience." He squeezed her hand lightly, wishing that he could just open his mind and let her see everything without the risk of interruption.

"When will you tell me?"

"As soon as we're at the house."

-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-

At the airport in Vancouver, Edward handed Bella her boarding pass.

"Prince George?" she observed.

"British Columbia's Northern Capital," he confirmed. "We'll be there in less than two hours."

She tried to lighten the mood. "You meant it when you said we were heading north. Will it be our final destination?"

"It's only the first leg of the trip. Prince George is the closest city to the house, and we'll drive the rest of the way from there." Gustave was waiting for them in Prince George, with the house's keys and some supplies Edward–or rather, Mr. McCarty–had ordered. From there, they'd drive the SUV he'd just purchased. "We should be able to reach it before morning."

Bella raised her eyebrows. They were supposed to land in Prince George in the late afternoon; how remote was the house, if it would take hours by car to get there?

When he'd had the safe house built, hoping that he would never actually need it, Edward had chosen an area that would give him ample opportunities to hunt. He'd imagined he would get there by cutting through the woods, leaving behind the technology he'd known and used for the past years. Who knew when he would have resurfaced? By the time he returned to civilization, the world could have changed over and over again. Whether he'd stayed hidden there for a month or a century, what would it have mattered, compared to his immortality?

He could never have imagined that he would bring a human to his secret den...let alone that she would be the most important person in his world–his mate.

After the first hour of their journey by car, it became evident to Bella that they would never have managed the trip in only a few hours without the abilities of a vampire. The roads were coated with ice, but Edward never let the car skid. The darkness swallowed everything around them; had it not been for the narrow ribbon of road unfolding in front of them, she couldn't have detected any sign that humans had explored those woods and mountains.

She relaxed in her seat, turning herself toward him; in the dim light of the car's cabin, his sharp features stood out, and his perfection reminded her of an angel. She smiled at the idea that her angel was dressed in jeans and a coat and drove an expensive black SUV.

Edward looked at her sidelong and caught her staring. "What are you thinking about?"

"You're so handsome." She sighed. "I'll never get tired of looking at you."

He chuckled. "Miss Swan, you flatter me. You would make me blush..." He left the sentence unfinished and became more serious. "If I were still human."

She didn't appear fazed by his unintentional reminder of his nature. "What were you like back then?"

He shrugged. "Do you mean what did I look like? Not very different, I suppose. I was just more breakable." For a fleeting moment, he allowed himself to daydream about Bella in his times, as the new mistress of Masen Manor. I'd like her to know everything I can recall about my past.

As if she could read his thoughts, she asked him something more. "Would you talk to me about what you liked to do?"

"In my spare time, I played the piano. I still do."

"Do you?" She was intrigued by every new tidbit she could discover about him. "But I didn't see a piano in your house in Seattle."

He hesitated before telling her what had happened to his musical instrument, but then he reasoned that it wouldn't be bragging, only sharing one of his memories with her. "The hospital where Carlisle and I worked started a project to teach music to the patients of the pediatric ward. Thanks to an anonymous donation, the organizers have been able to set up a music room, and they've recently received a piano."

Bella didn't comment, but she reached over to graze his fingers on the steering wheel. Edward could have left his musical instrument in the house and just given the project enough money for them to buy a piano, but she understood that it wouldn't have been the same. Every time he relocated, he had to give up any relationship with the people who had mattered to him–no contact with previous patients, former colleagues, or other acquaintances. But by leaving behind something that was important to him, he'd found a way to maintain a connection. She imagined how Edward, with a new identity and living a thousand miles away, would have been comforted by the thought that, back in Seattle, a piano lesson was brightening the day of a small child, and the same piano he'd played so many times was now being used by a human boy, who was perhaps struggling to learn the musical notes just as young Edward had done more than two hundred years before.

"Will I get to hear you play?" she asked.

"Of course you will."

On the next trip to Prince George, I'll look for an electronic keyboard and bring it to the house. I'll play for her...I might teach her to play, too... He forced himself to stop his daydreams. First of all, he still had to tell her about Charlie. How will she react? And once we're safe, will she still want to stay with me?

After a last stretch of bumpy road, the house came into view.

-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-

Bella had imagined that a cabin would await them behind the thick curtain of woods; instead, she was amazed by the luxurious house to which Edward had brought her. A line of evergreens hid the cedar-clad cottage, which had large windows and was surrounded by wooden decks. The interiors were modern, and a large fireplace dominated the living room.

While Edward started a fire, Bella made herself at home on one of the huge black leather couches in front of the hearth. She would have liked to rest, to enjoy a good sleep safely tucked in the strong embrace of her love, but it was time to face the conversation they'd postponed that afternoon.

Edward invited her into his lap and brushed her cheek with a slow kiss. He took her hands in his, silently telling her that he would always be there for support.

"I have news about Charlie."

Bella shut her eyes and took a deep breath, bracing herself for the worst. "Tell me."

"While I was in the woods hunting, I met one of the vampires who took him."

The words hit Bella like the lash of a whip, and she shuddered in fear as she considered all the consequences that meeting could have had. "How did you manage to come back without being followed? Weren't those guards stalking you?"

"They still are, but Charlie wasn't taken by them. There were two other vampires following him, and one of them–the one I met in the woods–had already met with him in Portland."

"What? How is that possible? He was in Portland for a conference! Walsh even invited me to go there, and Charlie talked to me after he gave his speech."

"First of all, you have to understand that those vampires aren't enemies. They knew about me, even though I'd never met them before, and they were trying to protect me, Charlie, and themselves from the Volturi. They don't harm humans."

As Bella struggled to process the information Edward had given her all at once, she felt hope resurfacing in her chest. They aren't enemies...They were trying to protect...They don't harm humans. "So Charlie's safe?"

A crease marred Edward's expression. "You can talk with him, and in time you'll be able to meet him again, but there's more I need to tell you."

Her eyes widened in confusion. "What happened to him? Has he been hurt? Is he in a hospital?"

Edward shook his head in response to her questions. They were rational hypotheses–human guesses–while he had to help her to accept a very different reality, and a harsh one at that.

"Those vampires, Alice and Jasper, caught up with Charlie on his way back from Portland. He had a heart attack, and they resolved to do the only thing that could prevent him from dying."

"Charlie has had problems with his heart lately, but he's been taking meds for it. He wouldn't have left them at home—I'm sure he had them with him," she stammered. "Edward, you said I can talk to him. So he must have made it, right?"

"Bella..."

"Don't Bella me!" she snapped. "Just tell me what they did to him."

"They had to change him." He exhaled. He couldn't bring himself to say the word vampire out loud–not to her, after everything his breed had done to her family. "Charlie has become...like me."

Bella went limp in his arms, still conscious, but broken as if a battering ram had shattered the last of her strength. She'd accepted Edward's nature–she'd accepted that she had found love in a supernatural creature. It wouldn't have been possible otherwise, because had Edward remained human, they would never have met, kept apart by the centuries that had separated their births. But when it came to Charlie–the only family she had left–how would she recognize her father in an immortal creature? Edward had talked with her about his instincts and the difficulty of mastering them, especially just after the transformation. Now his words make sense, she considered. You can talk with him, Edward had said, and in time you'll be able to meet him again. Did he mean that, were they to meet face to face right away, Charlie would be tempted to attack her? To kill his own daughter out of bloodlust?

The idea made her shake in horror. She pushed away Edward's icy fingers as he reached out to wipe away the hot tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Why did they do that to him? We talked about that, remember? Charlie would never have agreed to be changed into...into a..." The word monster came to mind, but was left unuttered.

She moved toward the door, but Edward rushed to take her in his arms. "Let me go," she seethed. "I don't want to talk anymore."

"If you need some time alone, I'll leave. But I can't let you stay outside. It's too cold."

She bristled. "Right. I'm the last weak human standing, aren't I?" She gestured to the room around them. "What is this? Your ultimate revenge? Since my father kept you prisoner, now you're going to keep me? Are you happy, now that your vampire friends have damned Charlie to become like the ones he was fighting against?"

"Isabella!" He raised his voice, halting her outburst. "Would you listen to me for a moment?"

He kept his tone as calm as he could. "Charlie agreed to be changed," he went on. "Do you think I wouldn't have reacted if those vampires had harmed him, or had changed him against his wishes? He was going to die without the opportunity to say goodbye, and he chose to sacrifice everything, even his own nature, if it meant he'd have a chance of not losing you. It won't be easy, and there's no question it will take time, but for the moment, whenever you're ready to talk to him, there's a satellite phone in the house."

Bella's expression softened, and Edward ached to reach for her, but he didn't dare to do so. "It was to be expected that at some point, something I'd told you or something you'd seen would be too much," he admitted. He swallowed a lump in his throat. "You're running away, and I won't stop you. I only want you to be safe. I only want you to be happy, Isabella, and we both know that Charlie wants the same."

She ducked her head, ashamed by her fit of anger. "I'm sorry," she murmured. "I said things I..."

Edward smiled at her, and had she raised her eyes, Bella would have seen how much affection was in his. "This danger won't last forever. You have choices, Bella. You have a human life to go back to. I promise that Charlie will always be able to count on me."

She inched toward Edward. "Have you talked to him yet?"

"No."

Another step toward him, until their bodies were almost touching. "Would you be at my side when I call him?"

"As long as you want me, I'll always be at your side."


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