Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I'm borrowing her characters, dressing them up in MARPAT, and giving them some guns (again).

Unbeta'd, unedited.

Jan 12
U.S.S. Kearsarge
Mediterranean Sea
One hundred nautical miles off the coast of Sardinia


Bella froze at the low, familiar purr, but by the time she spun around and pinned the shadow filling the open doorframe, a wide grin lit her entire face.

"Eli," she said, chucking her tablet onto a nearby table as she skirted a pair of bolted-down chairs. When the Israeli reached for her hand, Bella shook her head at his nonsense, threw her arms around his neck, and kissed him square on the cheek. "God, I'm really glad to see you."

"Betakh." He scoffed, even as he gave her a not-so-little squeeze. "I would expect nothing less."

Decked out in his usual olive drab fatigues, El'azar Dayan looked like the devil when he finally released her. With a wag of his dark, shaggy brows, he shot her a playful wink and then eyed his fellow major across the room, where the Marine stood talking to his beast of a staff sergeant and doing his damnedest to pretend that he wasn't watching every move his scientist made.

"Surely, by now, you've had enough of these ruffians," El'azar added, wrinkling his nose and waving at the room with mock disdain. "You should allow me to introduce you to some of my… friends in Tel Aviv. They know what to do with skills such as yours."

"Seriously? We're doing this already?" Bella rolled her eyes at the man's never-ending theatrics. She thought for a second. "Ata hofer li bamoah."

Now, it was El'azar's turn to freeze. When he caught the mischievous, twitching curve of Bella's lips, he belted out a loud, boisterous laugh, flattened his palms to his chest with put-on flair, and sighed. "Such a shame indeed."

Shaking her head, Bella just flashed him a row of teeth. Before she could formulate an even better reply, however, movement flickered into her periphery, and she didn't have to look to know who was there.

"Rav Seren." Edward extended his hand in warm greeting and clapped the other man on the shoulder. "Ma HaEinyanim?" One brow arched as he looked over to Bella. "Other than your continued – and futile – efforts to recruit my weapons specialist, of course."

A dusting of pink warmed Bella's cheeks.

El'azar winked again at the now-blushing, fidgeting scientist before glancing around the room. He briefly paused on the wall-to-wall bank of wide screens, where high-definition satellite and drone images glared out of every one of them. Nodding at one in particular – an overhead shot of a dry, rust-colored desert village that had seen better days – he cracked a wry, sardonic smile. "Apparently, it's business as usual, eh?"

"Tell me about it." As Edward's gaze tracked the Israeli's, his fists fell to his hips. "You cleared?"

El'azar nodded. "With the targeting of our ambassador and the nature of this particular threat, the politicians were less problematic this time. My team has been approved to conduct certain… training exercises, at my discretion."

"Metzuyan," Edward said as he watched a pair of dark-haired, olive-skinned soldiers in matching green fatigues quietly slip through the door.

Across the room, Segen Benjamin Levy – marksman, explosives specialist, and Eli's second in command – found Alice immediately. Wearing an out-of-place, cheerful smile, the young, baby-faced man waved at his commander, and then he damned near dragged the other soldier over to join the team of Marines. The newcomer – a taller, almost statuesque woman with serious, angular features – locked eyes with Edward's gunnery sergeant, and the two women acknowledged each other in a moment of mutual, tight-lipped annoyance.

"Samal Rishon Leah Rivkin." El'azar chuckled when she rolled her eyes at his lieutenant. "See? You are not the only one with a foul-tempered sergeant."

Unsurprised, Edward just shook his head. "You heard anything?"

El'azar tsked, and his broad shoulders rolled in a loose, almost lazy shrug that did nothing to hide the violent hum of energy now lurking beneath that easy-going façade."Our analysts are now saying the housing of the primary explosive originated from a facility in Isfahan." Hesitating, he looked around once more, and when he finally continued, his voice dropped to a careful murmur. "I suspect that a response is imminent."

Edward's chin ducked in subtle acknowledgment.

At that, Bella startled. Her brows slammed down into a hard furrow, her thumb flicked across her forefinger in nervous agitation, and she spoke before realizing it. "This wasn't Iran. You know that, right?"

Both men immediately pivoted toward her, and Edward's eyes found hers with the sharp, probing focus of a commander assessing a brand-new weapon. "Go on."

"Your analysts aren't wrong about the origin of that shell." Cheeks puffing out, Bella stretched for her tablet. "Nor were they wrong about the other, smaller housings used for the devices at the entries and exits. DARPA analyzed the steel composition and the specific impurities. It's unmistakable."

With a quick tap, a zoomed-in image of charred, curling steel and melted cables filled the screen. She flipped over to another photo, then a third, a fourth, in a stream of frayed wires, shredded metal, fragments of concave glass, wet stains, and only God knew what else.

"But this?" Bella jabbed at the screen like all that meant something, and when she looked back at Edward, her expression hardened. "This was engineered and executed by someone else."

El'azar crossed his arms over his chest, and as his head tilted, light from the overhead fixture glinted off the pale, iridescent, two-inch scar at his hairline. A smattering of other, older scars littering his neck glimmered. "What do you mean?"

Bella huffed. "These assholes went to a lot of effort to use…" She stopped, and her spine straightened, pulling her narrow shoulders back. "No, to showcase what XR-5 can do. This was an exhibition... of the weapon."

When neither man replied, Bella tucked the tablet under her arm and stepped toward the bank of monitors. Scanning the screens, she motioned to the nearest satellite shot, and Edward grimly noted that it was the same rubble and blackened radius they'd seen at Langley. She tapped one of the keyboards on the table. Red lines with annotated coordinates appeared, circling the locations of the explosives. There were other notations, too, along with an overlaid maze of multi-colored dashes and arrows.

"Look at the target selection itself," she said, and this time, there was a certain eagerness in her voice, an undercurrent of a hunter homing in on its prey. Her eyes, gleaming and alive, flitted back and forth between the image, the tablet, and the two majors. "The purposeful reengineering of the formula. The placement of the primary device." Bella paused. "Just the… fucking precision of it all, even the way the security guard was executed and hidden."

Nodding more to herself than them, she stepped closer to the screens. "There's something very cold and very calculated about this event. It lacks…"


"Exactly," Bella said, spinning toward the quiet, gray-eyed sergeant, sniper, and part-time engineer as he appeared out of the shadows and joined her by the wall of screens. "What do you see, Jazz?"

Easing in closer, Jasper scratched his scruffy chin as he eyeballed the seeming chaos of the explosion and its aftermath. He skipped over to the remnants of the high-end, US-manufactured PCB and the complex web of obsessively organized blackened wiring before moving back to the overhead and the overlaid maps of wind direction, traffic patterns, and emergency response routes.

"When you look at it the first time around, you think it's like any other attack… chaotic and angry… vengeful," he said, drawling. "Ideological crap. Religion. Politics. Fuckin' bullshit like that."


"But… that's not what this is, is it, Doc?" Mind moving a mile a minute, Jasper tucked a worn, gnawed-down toothpick between his teeth and twirled it. Angling back to Bella, the sergeant's brows hit his hairline in a blend of surprise, curiosity, and something akin to reluctant approval. "It's too good. It's like someone was checkin' the boxes 'cause that's what they want you to think."

The two shared a moment of silent conversation before Bella ducked her head in agreement. "Yes, precisely. It's too good. And the deeper I dig, the more I look at all the various parts and pieces – and that's all I've done over the last couple of days – the more convinced I am. Whoever we're looking for… he – or she – has time, money, experience, expertise, and patience."

Quieter, Edward asked, "Have you shared this with Langley?"

Turning, Bella leaned against the back of one of the bolted-down chairs and scrubbed her face, shoving the heels of her palms into the gray-ringed hollows of her eyes. "I have. I talked to Peter and Charlotte a couple of hours ago, and they agree… They all agree." A barely-there smile teased her lips when she looked over at the now-scowling Israeli. "Including your friends in Tel Aviv… Lahav."

El'azar snorted. "Witch."

"Good," Edward said, loud enough that the rest of the room went silent. Across the room, propped up against the bulkhead and waiting, his sergeants and pilot whipped around at the familiar note of command. "Because we have our first set of targets."

A low hum answered him, and Edward looked over to his staff sergeant, where he stood, towering over the slim Israeli lieutenant sandwiched between him and Rosalie. "Oh, and Em?

Straightening, the big man cracked his knuckles and swiped a hand over his shorn scalp. "Sir?"

"You're not going to like where we're going." One corner of Edward's mouth pulled up into a lop-sided smile, and when the other man let out an aggravated huff, his eyes glittered. "Or how we're getting there."

Jan 14
U.S.S. Kearsarge
Mediterranean Sea
Undisclosed location off the coast of Northern Africa

Bella's heart rate soared as the massive gates to the vessel's well deck slowly swung wide.

Beyond the steel doors, pitch-black water bled into the dark, inky sky, barely distinguishable but for the irregular patches of reflected moonlight gleaming off the choppy waves. As the doors opened wider, icy winter wind and salty spray sucked into the bay, blasting her in the face and cutting through her armor and uniform like a blade.

"Kor kelavim," El'azar grumbled, tucking his chin inside his collar. A stream of irritated, barely discernable Hebrew rolled off his tongue, and he glared at her when she laughed. "What?"

"Not a fan of the cold, huh?" Bella asked, innocently enough that the younger lieutenant standing on El'azar's left coughed and hid in the crook of his elbow. "Wuss."

At that, El'azar returned her grin, this time with an almost feral flash of teeth. That amusement vanished as fast as it appeared, however. Without warning, his expression morphed into that of a hard, no-nonsense soldier. He barked an order to his lieutenant and rattled off a barrage of pissed-off commands to the rest of his team to start loading.

As soon as they were out of range, El'azar stepped closer. Before she knew what he was doing, he pressed something into her hand, careful to avoid prying eyes on the deck grating across the bay. "Here, beautiful," he said, softer. "You will take this with you. You know what to do should the need arise."

Bella's throat bobbed as she peered down at her palm, where a thin, quarter-sized disc sat in its center. "You think I still need this?"

Not answering at first, El'azar studied the thick smear of grease paint coating the woman's heart-shaped face and neck. His eyes trailed down to her armor, to the pair of matching .45s cinched to her thighs, and finally back up to the modified M4A1 carbine slung across her back.

Dr. Isabella Swan certainly looked the part, a far cry from the nervous, shaking woman the Ghost had dragged into his desert less than a year ago.

"Im Yirtzeh HaShem, no." El'azar spat on the grating as he looked across the bay to the man himself.

Decked out in full night battledress – black, non-reflective NOMEX, matching Kevlar with high-powered, four-tube NVGs, and a small arsenal strapped to his body – and with a silent, ice-cold bearing hardened by too many years of war, Major Edward Cullen might as well have been Death itself. Almost on cue, he glanced over. Noting their exchange, Edward's mouth flattened. His gaze slid to Bella, and then the two men made eye contact for no more than a second before he inclined his head in a single, succinct movement, granting permission that no one else would ever see.

"Then, why?" Bella asked, barely above a whisper.

El'azar swung back to Bella with yet another put-on, too-casual wink. He smiled that sly smile of his, shrugged, and abruptly spun on his heel, aiming for the second of two cushioned landing craft lined up in the center of the bay. As he descended the stairs, the Israeli commander called over his shoulder. "And why not? It's always better to be prepared, eh?"





You might recall that in OPERATION: Break the Dawn, El'azar gave Bella a small tracking beacon that she could activate if she were ever separated from Edward's team.

Hebrew [transliterated]:

Neshama: literally "soul" but also used as an endearment. You might recall from O:BtD that El'azar enjoys teasing Bella with it

Betakh: Of course

Ata hofer li bamoah: You're digging into my brain, a slang expression for someone who talks too much / talking your ear off

Rav Seren: rank in the Israeli military, equivalent to a major

Ma HaEinyanim: What's the business/things, a greeting meaning how are you/what's going on?

Metzuyan: Excellent

Lahav: you might recall from O:BtD that this is El'azar's call sign. It means blade.

Segen: rank in the Israeli military, equivalent to a lieutenant

Samal Rishon: rank in the Israeli military, equivalent to a staff sergeant

Kor kelavim: dog cold

Im Yirtzeh HaShem: If God is willing


Cushioned landing craft: these are air-cushioned vessels (hovercraft) that can be used to transport soldiers/Marines and equipment (including vehicles) from amphibious assault vessels, e.g., the USS Kearsarge. The large LCACs (Landing Craft Air Cushion) used by the Navy can transport up to 180 troops and an Abrams tank. These vessels allow the military to land forces in locations that traditional landing craft can't access.

Isfahan: a large city located in central Iran. With a history dating back to the Bronze Age, it was once the capital of Persia during the Safavid dynasty. Today, it's a major industrial center, producing steel, petrochemicals, etc. The city/region is also known for weapons manufacturing and has been long-suspected of housing nuclear enrichment facilities

PCB: printed circuit board

Well deck: this is a water-level deck on an amphibious assault vessel (like the Kearsarge). It opens to the sea through huge gates in the ship's stern. There, the cargo, troops, and vehicles can be loaded onto landing craft for transit to the beach. Air cushion landing craft can "fly" out of the dry well deck, or the well deck can be flooded so that conventional landing craft can float out on their way to the beach.