[3-11-2013] I'm back! Thanks for all your kind messages during the flu.
Some news: Snare has been recommended on RobAttack (link: h.t.t.p : / / b it .ly /15Go4Kg). Thanks to Cared for the amazing review!
Do you remember The Second Line, the one-shot I wrote for Emergency Beta Service? It won 1st prize (Judges Choice)! I'm thrilled. On Emergency Beta website you can find the other entries, the banners, and the comments. Enjoy!
When Bella left the observation gallery, she found Charlie waiting for her in the hall.
"Hey," he greeted her. "I noticed you'd left and thought you'd gone for a run, but it was pouring rain."
"I left you a note on the fridge."
"Found it. You could have waited for me, but maybe it's better that you came here with your car. I'm going to stay for a few days, if it's all right with you."
"Of course it is," she confirmed. "You don't have to change your plans because of me. I'm doing fine – no need to be worried, okay?" Bella wished she could give her father some peace of mind by promising him that she would actually get better, but she was afraid to make that promise. She was even afraid to wish for it herself, having seen her hopes crushed before.
He smiled at her. "Is there anything I should care about more than my own daughter?"
Caring is different than worrying, she almost countered, but remained silent. Charlie was doing his best to be at home more often just so she wouldn't feel so alone, and he knew how to help her without being suffocating. Bella had to admit that what bothered her wasn't his attitude, but that she needed his help.
"Do you have a minute?" he asked. When she nodded, he gestured toward his study.
Edward didn't refrain from following the rest of the conversation. Through Charlie's mind, he saw them taking a seat. His spacious desk was so full of papers and folders that he almost couldn't see Bella behind that barrier.
Charlie made room on the desk, mumbling an apology for his usual chaos. "So, what brought you back here?"
Bella quirked an eyebrow at him. "As if you didn't know. I wanted to see Edward."
"Please go on."
"Just a visit," she explained. "And I'd like to ask you if I can come here again."
Her father considered her words for a long moment. "You know what my research is about. You've worked here before, and I understood your reasons when you left your job. Are you having second thoughts?"
"Not at all. I have no plans to go back to working in that field."
"But you came to meet with the subject." As usual, he avoided calling Edward by name.
She nodded. "You've devoted the last few years of your life to following unlikely leads, trusting your gut even when no one believed you. Now it turns out that you were right, and I'd like to know more about it. I'm sure you understand."
"I do, but that doesn't mean I'm okay with it." Charlie let out a sigh. "You've already heard the story: my father wanted me to work in his firm, taking over his job and continuing our family's tradition. He couldn't accept that his only son wanted to spend his life dealing with the scum of the Earth. We fought about it all the time, and it hurt us both."
Bella followed his words with a nod. "That's the reason why you never took my own choices from me, and I'm grateful for that."
"I didn't choose this job for the thrill of hunting criminals, and neither did the best colleagues I've worked with over the years. We did it for the people we could protect by putting the guilty behind bars." His mind skimmed through the many acknowledgments and copious amount of praise he'd received for his work; for him, nothing compared to the relief he felt when he stopped a criminal and prevented other people from ending up on the coroner's table as victims of a serial killer. "Otherwise, I wouldn't have offered to let you work with me after graduation in the first place. But after what you've been through in the last few months..."
Bella looked away, as if she didn't want to hear any reminder of the events her father was referring to.
Frowning, Edward scanned the images in Charlie's mind, trying to unearth more about what was troubling her. Unfortunately, nothing of what he saw stood out as a likely possibility.
"Don't you trust my judgment anymore?" she asked.
"I trust you, and I know you're careful. But I'd like to remind you how tough certain experiences can be. It's like looking into an abyss, and this subject is no exception."
"You said that Edward isn't a killer."
"No. I said he isn't that killer," he corrected, meeting her eyes for a moment before looking down. "He's not the one I'm tracking, but it doesn't mean I've figured out all the rest. And anyway, before long it won't be my job to worry about it anymore."
"What do you mean?"
He fidgeted with one of the papers on his desk for a moment before he answered. "I'm considering involving the government—handing him over to them."
Bella stood up from her chair and began to pace the room. "What would they do to him? Couldn't you release him? If he hasn't done anything wrong, why can't he just go on with his life?"
"Isabella," Charlie interrupted her. "You're talking about the subject as if he's human. If he were, he wouldn't be in that cell. I'm not a kidnapper."
"Of course not," she conceded.
"Think about him like a nuclear weapon. So far we've been able to keep him under control, and my former colleagues still don't have a clue that he exists. But we don't know how long we can keep this up—how long we can keep him a secret, or how dangerous he might become. If I released him, and he turned out to be a killer, I'd be the one to blame."
"If he shows he's dangerous," she pointed out. "But based on what you've discovered so far, do you think he will?"
"That's a good question – one I'm not taking lightly. So far, we know his genetic structure is different from that of humans, and almost every day we discover some new skill he has, not to mention the way he takes his nourishment. He has nothing that makes him a human being, and yet sometimes he seems more human than many people I've met." He let out a sigh, rubbing at his eyes. "I wouldn't wish the confusion I've felt since I found him on anyone."
"You taught me that questions are often more important than answers."
"But would you take the risk of facing all the questions that every visit to the observation gallery would bring forth? Do you need this kind of stress, after all you've been through lately?"
"You know I've already made up my mind."
Bella didn't go to the lodge the following day. Alone in her house, she spent Saturday morning snuggled up in what had been Renée's favorite armchair, gazing out of the window. The neighbors' kids were playing in the backyard, and their excited shrieks stirred up memories of her own childhood, when Charlie had always spent what little time he had away from his job with her and Renée.
Their house was the same, although the plants her mother had chosen for the garden were now taller, and her beloved flowers had bloomed and blighted again with the seasons; Bella felt keenly how neither she nor Charlie belonged there anymore. The family who had once lived there had become nothing but a gray shadow of itself, in sharp contrast with the bright colors of the garden or the warm hues of the house's fine furniture.
She flipped through an album of pictures. The images of that summer – the perfect summer before the darkness had swallowed any joy – were heavy in her hands. She looked at the girl who was smiling up at her, forever happy in that keepsake. That younger version of Bella Swan was lost, and for a moment she saw herself as a ghost envying the living.
Not a ghost, she told herself. Unless even ghosts can be haunted by other dead people.
She thought about Edward, and recalled the moment he'd cringed, curling in on himself at just the idea of removing the barrier between them. She'd been relieved when Charlie hadn't noticed how upset she'd been afterward, and she had tried not to think about what she'd just witnessed, but now it was time to reflect on that unsettling moment. If Edward wasn't going to hurt her, why had he reacted that way? On the other hand, if he wanted to attack her, why had he seemed so tortured at the mere idea of putting her in danger? Either way, he'd made it clear that he didn't mean any harm. Wasn't that proof of his good disposition? And yet, he could be a liar. A master of deception.
Bella set aside a picture of Rome and put it in the notebook she usually carried with her. It featured a sunset on the dome of St. Peter's Basilica – the Cupolone, as Italians called it – and it made her recall the feast of colors and voices in the crowded street where the photo had been taken.
The next photo in the album was from one of the last days of her trip to Italy. "Bellissima," Garrett had called her, showing off the little Italian he'd learned. When she'd turned toward him, he'd snapped the picture. She wore a surprised smile, her eyes bright and amused. When did it begin? she wondered. Was he already lying to me back then?
She shut the photo album and forced herself to leave her refuge. After a long shower and a change of clothes, she ventured out. The neighbor's children had gone back inside their house, and the street was quiet again. Just like every Saturday, it was time for her to face the ghosts.
It was Monday morning when Bella returned to the lodge. She silently asked if it was relief that she saw on Edward's face when she entered the observation room. She stayed still behind the thick glass, and as the minutes went by, Edward's smile faded. Her fingers reached for the intercom, but she hesitated.
A frown formed between his eyebrows when she didn't speak. "Anything wrong?" he asked, but she couldn't hear the words.
So far, all you've done here...is to tell me what you're worried about. She mulled over his words from their last meeting. What had he called her supposed reason for visiting him? Vampire therapy. Maybe it took a creature from a different world for her to open up.
"Why did you want me to come here again?" she finally asked as she switched on the intercom.
He stopped pacing the room. "It's not like I could come to visit you."
For a moment, she entertained the idea of him – or rather, a human version of him – knocking on her door and asking her out. She looked away in embarrassment; inhuman or not, he was stunning – tall and lean, with a broad chest enhanced by the white t-shirt he was wearing. "Would you?"
He crossed his arms in front of his chest and tilted his head at her. "Is that an invitation, Miss Isabella?"
She didn't play along. "After what happened last week, I'm afraid of saying something that might upset you."
He averted his eyes, looking down. "I owe you an apology for that. Thank you for coming back, even after what happened. It wasn't your fault, believe me, but maybe it'd be better if you're the one talking."
"To continue my vampire therapy?" she challenged.
A corner of his mouth lifted in a half-smile. "I doubt I'd make a good therapist." Liar. He recalled the years he'd spent studying psychology and then psychiatry, and the excellent results he'd achieved when he'd practiced it – it had been the ideal profession for a mind-reader, but now... "Especially for you."
She frowned. "Why? Am I too broken to be fixed?"
"No," he rushed to reassure her. "It's just that you're difficult to read."
"Compared to whom? What people have you read, Edward?"
Everyone but you. "I've been around long enough to meet my fair share of people."
Her question came as a soft whisper, but it made him feel naked before her. How do you see me? he wondered. He was forever frozen at twenty-three, and the centuries he'd spent in the world had taught him how to pose as everything from a college freshman to a young doctor. He could become whatever he wanted, and people's thoughts always let him know if his masquerade was working. But she wasn't one of the humans he'd lived among, acting as though he still belonged to their kind. She was the first who, even knowing what he was, hadn't fought against him. She'd even promised she wouldn't lie to him, and still, he knew he couldn't disclose the full truth.
"Have you read stories about my kind?" he asked.
"I'm no expert, but yes, I've read some."
"They say we don't age and have a long life, right?"
She snorted. "They say other things as well – that you sleep in coffins and transform into bats."
He scoffed. "Those are just lies."
"So what's the truth?" she challenged.
"Isabella, you ask a creature who's not even supposed to exist for the truth?"
She shook her head. "I'm asking you, Edward."
"I wish I could tell you."
"Why can't you?"
He grimaced and motioned to the cell around him. "Have you forgotten where we are? This conversation isn't exactly private."
"I've switched the recording system off," she assured him.
As if that would be enough to thwart Charlie and his men. Should his jailers realize that Edward was opening up to Bella, they would be sure to take advantage of the situation. Even if she continued to keep the recording system switched off during her visits, he wouldn't put it past the others to plant a hidden microphone or camera in the observation gallery to spy on them. He had to admit, the chance to talk with her and become friends was appealing, but he wasn't sure it was worth the risk. "Trust me. The less you know, the better."
"I would never use anything against you."
The force of her promise was like a hug for him. I'm afraid of saying something that might upset you, she'd said. Was it because she feared him harming her, or could it mean she didn't want him to suffer? Can it mean she cares for me? He dismissed the thought.
Bella had a contemplative look on her face. "You admitted you have heightened senses, didn't you?"
He shrugged. "You know the answer."
"Does it include sight?" she mouthed.
He read the question on her lips but didn't answer.
She let out a huff. "Please," she murmured.
He smirked in reply.
"Do they have a way of showing you pictures?" she asked vaguely.
The sudden change in subject put him on guard. What does she have in mind? As if I could know. "Swan – the big one – uses a slide projector. It's over there, on the left side of the counter." He carefully avoided mentioning that the slides he'd been shown previously had all been of evidence from the Drainer's homicides.
"Do you trust me?" she asked.
It was only after a long silence that he nodded.
Her face lit up. "I'll come back tomorrow."
Thanks for reading!
Would you trust this Vampward?
Thank you! to Snare's great prereaders/betas: Camilla10, SatinCoveredSteel, and Marlena516.
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