Endless thanks always to Liz, Holly & Annette.

Charlie and Bella tell this story but Edward will be along!

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns them. There is no drug use in this story.

~~~ Charlie ~~~

I'm wide awake listening to the rain, as another minute passes on the clock by the bed, thinking about paint.

Bella will be here in less than two days. For the first time since she was a baby, for the first time since I sent her away all those years ago, my daughter is returning to this strange place under the clouds. I wonder if it will help, in a place as foreign to her as Forks, if she has one place, a single room, that feels something like home.

Her room in Phoenix is blue, painted long ago by my wife, but the exact shade eludes me, and the harder I try to conjure up an image of those walls, the further into the murky distance they recede. My daughter's birthright overshadows everything, always, even things as light and sparkling as blue walls and homecomings.

Billy taught me something though. There was a night not long ago when the iron bands around my chest were so tight I couldn't breathe, and the strain of waiting became too much. I phoned him that night in desperation and he settled in on the other end of the line, his quiet, patient, words a salve to my raw nerves. He told me of the ancient Quileute magic that frees the mind and the soul - the spirit - from the here and now and releases it to travel where it will. I'd heard the Quileute talk of it before.

I've tried a few times since that night, to open my mind to things I have no reason to doubt, and I don't believe my spirit has gone anywhere. The Quiletue have magic that I do not and while they roam, I remain earthbound.

I've discovered, though, that the act of meditating completely on one thing can keep others at bay, and maybe that's all Billy intended. It's enough.

I turn my full attention to the red numbers on the clock and work to release the tension in my fists and jaw, beginning a journey that will take place only in the confines of my mind, only in this room.

It takes a long time, but eventually the tension eases enough and, in my mind's eye, I drift out of the bedroom window and away from the pre-dawn gloom. I float up through the delicate mist, the gentle sigh that's all the clouds have left to give for now, and over the forest. I don't look down, not until I'm far above the rainclouds and the forest is so far away it can't reach me anymore. Gliding like a bird on the wing, over mountaintops and rivers, cities and deserts, further and further away from Forks until, finally, I reach a small house in Phoenix.

It's an ordinary house, just like thousands of others scattered along the wide Arizona streets, unremarkable to anyone but me. I hesitate at the front door, almost able to smell the sharp scent of creosote in the cold air, to feel the dark eyes in the shadows at my back, and adjust my thinking.

Reflections ricochet off the walls of the rooms within, colored and shaped by the people who live in them; vibrant fabrics strewn carelessly over tables and easels, paintbrushes shoved in green watered jars, like flowers in a vase, glossy hardcovers and worn paperbacks stacked on every surface. Where I have hunkered down under the low clouds in Forks and let the darkness cover me, Renee has filled her life in Phoenix with color and brightness. Her strident, unconvincing attempt to keep the shadows from falling too heavily.

But it won't be like that now. It's hard to imagine the house packed away, forlorn and sparse, but as I enter the front door I imagine it as it must be tonight. Packing boxes lining bare walls, some with open lids revealing choatic contents, others neatly stacked, labelled and taped, waiting for the truck to bring them north to Forks.

I ease past them and up the stairs as though I'm really there, straight past my wife's bedroom, knowing that my fragile refuge in this unreality will dissolve if I so much as glance in her direction. Slowly I enter the room where my daughter lays sleeping. In my imagination she rests easily, the dark fan of her hair on the pillow catching briefly in the corner of my eye, before I turn away. I focus on the walls of her bedroom.

The gloom is too deep though. I can't see my way through it and I lighten the scene a little, sprinkling rays of summer sunshine through the window, trying to catch the color. It's too much though and everything rushes in, a hundred scenes from the only season I've ever really seen this room in. A bright summer day explodes before my eyes in a cacophony of color and movement. Sunshine floods the room, a sprinkler swishes across the lawn outside, pink watermelon drips in my daughter's hands, music plays on the radio and my wife's laughter echoes through the house.

Reality bites quickly, snapping at my heels and chasing me home until, with a jolt, I'm back, back in Forks where the fight to stop the forest invading everything never ends, and the rain roars down.

~~~ O ~~~

I fight my way out from under the blankets, lurch down the stairs and stand hunched over the kitchen sink until the trembling stops. When it does I turn the light on, pour a glass of water and stand at the refrigerator, gazing at the faded square of paper stuck on the door.

Since my daughter was old enough to hold a pencil, a package from her has arrived in my mailbox every week, a bundle of photos or drawings, report cards or letters. There are boxes stacked neatly in the attic, one for each year, every piece of paper carefully smoothed out and kept within. Except for this one. This piece of paper has hung on my fridge for nearly a decade.

It's a drawing of one small and two tall stick figures standing next to that unremarkable house in Phoenix. Renee and I stand on either side of Bella, holding her hands and beaming lopsided smiles. Strips of Renee's hand painted material are glued onto the paper for our clothes and hair. A rainbow and a bright sun soar over our heads, sparkling with the glitter my daughter pasted on to color them.

Most of the glitter has fallen off now and the letters have faded to grey, but I can still read the words. "To Daddy," they say in crooked writing, "Love Bella". The second "e", the one in her name, is back-to-front and there is something so tender, something so endearingly innocent about that back-to-front "e" that, even after all this time, it moves me.

I walk to the kitchen window and lean in close, my breath forming a cold, grey cloud on the glass. Hidden in the darkness beyond my yard is the forest that's the lifeblood of this town. The trees that have been logged and milled for decades are the reason that Forks exists at all. Hikers come from miles around to trek in that forest, to admire its beauty and uncover its secrets. Fishermen gather on the banks of the river that winds through it, the trees rising like a wall at their backs as they bait up and cast out. Botanists, hunters, campers; the forest teems with energy and activity and industry.

So much life for such a deadly place.

As if on cue, as if the mere thought of those ancient moss covered trees is enough to stir the demons, the sound I've been dreading all night shatters the silence. The glass of water flies from my hand as I lunge for the phone, a whispered prayer falling unbidden from my lips.

Please, don't be Billy.

"Chief?" My mouth is so dry I can't speak. I stare greedily at the water on the floor.

"Chief? Are you there?"

"I'm here, Newton." I clear my throat. "What is it?"

My relief at hearing the voice of my deputy, instead of Billy's, is not quite absolute and I'm not sure why. I puzzle over it as Newton gives me details of a car wreck on the outskirts of town, and I focus as he delivers this news, all business. He's established that the victims are from out of town, so I give him a few instructions and leave it to him to take care of the paperwork and the phone calls.

I stare at the phone for a long moment after hanging up. There could only be one outcome from a call from Billy at this hour. Seventeen years without my family, seventeen long, dead years are about to end and a part of me, however small, was hoping for the news that would prevent their return. It doesn't take long to figure it out.

If the demons return to the forest it's better that it happens now, tonight, before my daughter is anywhere near Forks. The thought of sending her and her mother away a second time is unbearable.

The yellow cupboards Renee painted so long ago brighten slowly as morning light creeps across the floor. I pick the glass up and wipe the water, sit at the kitchen table and rub my thumb over that faded back-to-front "e", trying to remember the exact shade of blue.

~~~ O ~~~

Staying strong and healthy, trying to prolong my life for as long as possible, is crucial but my morning run has had an added bonus over the years. It's given me a reason to get out of bed in the morning, a shape to the day. Somewhere to begin. Today is no different.

When I return Sue Clearwater is perched on my front step next to Billy. A wicker basket containing plastic bottles and flowers rests at her feet, and Billy has his legs stretched out on a cooler. I greet her warily, unsure whether she's here out of genuine friendship or because Harry sent her. As we follow Sue inside Billy shrugs helplessly at her back, his eyes dull, and I have my answer.

Harry Clearwater wants to make sure there's no last minute change of heart. He's never really understood. Used to knowing everything and being denied nothing, my refusal to open the curtain so he can shine his spotlight on the parts of my life I insist remain private infuriates him. His control will never extend to my family because I won't allow it too.

My marriage mystifies him. To him it's a puzzle to be solved, a conundrum to be clinically inspected from every angle. How is it that my wife and I have lived apart for seventeen years and managed to keep our relationship intact? Why haven't we moved on, picked up with someone else? Why haven't we been defeated by time and distance and loneliness? He's grateful that we haven't, it all fits with his plans, but still he's baffled.

I don't think he's allowed himself to love anyone since that night in the meadow, since the night his brother died.

Sue is crouched at the open fridge, unpacking containers of food from the cooler and stacking them neatly on the shelves. A spasm of guilt ripples across my shoulders.

When she straightens up I hug her briefly, a mumbled thanks in her ear and she smiles tightly in return. "I hope this works out for you, Charlie, I really do." She picks up a bottle and a cleaning rag from the basket and leaves the room, her tread heavy on the stairs.

Billy puts some coffee on, squinting at me as he fits the filter into the pot. "Get much sleep?" he asks.

I shrug.

"I thought as much. You look like hell."

"I had a phone call early this morning."

Billy wouldn't be here if that call had been from the Reservation, I know that, but it's reassuring all the same when he calmly continues measuring out the coffee, waiting for me to explain.

"There was a car crash out on the 101. No one local."

He raises an eyebrow, his dark eyes steady.

"I'm alright," I say. "I'll be alright. It's just the waiting." I shrug again.

"It's not long now, Charlie, you'll get through. What time does their flight arrive?"


I check the clock above the table. It's 9.20am. Twenty-five hours to wait.

Billy hands me a cup of coffee. "You're driving to Port Angeles to pick them up?" I nod.

Outside my kitchen window the rain has eased, the forest beyond my yard a murky silhouette veiled by the grey haze. I sip the coffee, shuddering as it hits my empty stomach, and remember when Renee was pregnant; how coffee made her sick, how even the taste of it on my lips was too much. It was easy to give it up.

It was a day so different to this one, that most bittersweet of days so long ago. The afternoon I came home from work to a house filled with rare sunshine, my wife caught in its rays at the kitchen sink. She looked so beautiful standing there, her long, dark hair almost red in the sunlight, but when she turned to me her face was tear-stained and twisted.

We hadn't planned on having a baby, not for a long time anyway, and the shock washed over us like red-hot lava, searing us together while we still could be.

The decision had been made before we got married and we stuck to it, steadfast through the months of Renee's pregnancy. Harry tried everything to change our minds but we were resolute. As soon as her pregnancy was over Renee would leave Forks and take our baby far away to safety.

The months of waiting for the birth of our child felt like a slow walk to the gallows, the impending separation threatening to strangle the life out of us as surely as the noose would. I thought about my father a lot. As fatherhood approached I felt a kinship with him that I'd never felt before, not even when standing in his place in the meadow.

I wondered at his choice to keep me with him in Forks, to raise me under the shadows of the clouds, so close to the forest. I never understood his choice but I never judged him for it either. People must be allowed to go to hell their own way. It's the weight of the cross we bear, the curse of the Swan family; that we must choose at all.

My father couldn't bear to send his child away and I couldn't bear not to.

It's the rain, the insistent rain, pouring its fury down on my house that pulls me back to the here and now. I tip the cold coffee into the sink and check the clock.


Twenty-three hours.

Seventeen years and twenty-three hours.

~~~ O ~~~

I call the station to check that Newton has everything under control and go looking for Billy. He's crouched on the floor in Bella's room putting her new bed together, the headboard leaning on her old crib in the corner.

"I thought maybe I'd take it out to Leah and Sam," he says, "unless you wanted to keep it."

"Leah and Sam?"

"You hadn't heard? The baby's due in the summer, I think." He leans over the crib, testing the joins and eyeing the lines. "All it needs is a lick of paint and it'll be good as new."

He might still be speaking but I'm not listening. The walls of Bella's old room have my full attention. All this time and I never noticed that those walls are the same blue as her room in Phoenix.

The brief moment of relief, of feeling that maybe everything will work out, doesn't last. The distraction is gone and in its place is raw, wild panic. I stand rigid, braced against the door frame to steady myself before I speak.

"What if they come back to the forest, Billy?"

He finishes tightening a bolt and puts the wrench down carefully, his eyes flickering to the fading scars that run up and down my arms. He leans against the wall next to me and I know without looking that his dark eyes have taken on the glazed look I know so well. Those dull, flat eyes mean that he's disappeared into another world, into the place where his other self resides.

I've known Billy all my life. I've lived in this house for two decades but Billy's place at the Reservation has been more of a home to me than this house has. We're bound together by experience and shared purpose and simple, enduring friendship. But Billy is Quileute before he's anything else and when he speaks again it's in the strange monotone that signals his departure from free thought to his obedience of tribal law.

When he speaks again it's Harry Clearwater's words that come from his mouth.

"You're sure you don't want to just tell her?" he asks.


"Well, it's been four years with no trouble," he says. "And you're as healthy as an ox. It should be a very long time before she'll need to know."

I want to push against the limits placed on our friendship but I know it's useless to try. Billy has no more choice in this than I do. All the separate compartments of my life - my marriage, my daughter, the tribe, my job, this town - are about to collide and what I want more than anything is reassurance that it could all work out. But I want that reassurance from Billy, my friend, not from Harry the tactician, and that's just not possible.

"I wonder what she thinks," I say, more to myself than to him.

"Who? Bella?" I nod. "Thinks about what?"

"She's never asked. Renee told her out of the blue that they'd be moving here, that we'd all be living together in Forks and she never asked why." I step away from the door and crouch on the floor, picking up the sheet of instructions for the bed. "As far as she knows, our marriage was over long ago and suddenly we're back together. I wonder what she thinks."

"She's a teenage girl, Charlie. The last thing she wants to know is details of her parents' marriage." I put the piece of paper down again and walk to the door, pausing before I leave the room. Harry's words will have to do for now.

"What if it happens when she's here?"

"If it happens when she's here we'll protect her," he says, turning his glazed eyes to me. "We'll protect her just like we've always protected you, Charlie." He crouches by my daughter's bed and picks up the wrench. "We're good at what we do."

I watch for a moment as he wrestles another bolt into place, then I go back downstairs to stand at the kitchen window and watch the rain.

~~~ O ~~~

The late afternoon shadows reach like crooked fingers across my bed when I wake, and the nightmare lingers, throbbing at my temples. That elusive flash of red, luminous and haunting, darting through the trees. Always out of reach.

I can't remember the last time I slept without fear.

My skin feels too tight across my cheekbones and a cold shower doesn't help much. Sometimes no sleep at all is better than an hour's sleep but Sue insisted I lie down for a while.

The house is quiet as the night draws in, the only light coming from the muted television. Billy's face has a blue cast from the screen that makes him look older than he is and I sit heavily, pulled down by the weight of everything.

"Get any sleep?" he asks for the second time today.

"A bit. Where's Sue?"

"Gone already. Jake and Emily brought the truck out while you were sleeping and took her back with them." He reaches into his pocket, pulls out a foil packet and tosses it into my lap.

"Sue left them for you," he says. "Sleeping pills."

I put the packet in my pocket, knowing Harry sent them, knowing I won't use them.

"Did you talk to Renee today?" he asks.

"I phoned her earlier. The truck left this morning."

Renee's voice was pitched higher than usual and I knew why without needing to ask. She's struggling to reconcile her barely contained joy at coming home with her concern at how Bella will handle the move. A new town, a new school, new friends. A father who lives in the same house as her, not just a visitor for a few days every summer. We didn't talk for long. She and Bella are camping out in the empty house tonight, eating pizza and saying goodbye to their old lives.

Billy and I heat up some food and eat in front of the television. Billy watches the game and I pretend to. He watches a movie. I watch the clock.

The second movie is nearly finished when I realise that Billy has no way of getting home, that he's staying here tonight. Maybe it's only because it suits me, but I think that this was his decision, not Harry's. Billy knows better than anyone how long this last night will be for me.

"Billy, I just want to say thank -." He cuts me short with a wave of his hand, his eyes glinting in the half light and I know when I see them that I was right. I settle back on the couch.

I won't sleep tonight. I won't even try.

The nightmare, the flash of red out of the corner of my eye like a flame in the dark that I can never extinguish, can wait for another night.

Instead I'll sit here in this room with Billy, our faces flickering blue, and wait out the last, long night.

~~~ O ~~~

A watery sun finally breaks through the low clouds and I wake Billy, who's snoring gently with his head tipped back on the couch.

Suddenly there's not enough time. I throw the curtains open, put chains on the old truck's tires and straighten up the kitchen. Jake arrives to take Billy home, their beaming faces as they drive away making this feel almost real.

The drive through the flickering shadows to Port Angeles is like a dream, and when we return to Forks, three abreast in the faded Chevy, I feel as though I'm underwater, swimming through a strange world I have no place in. It's only when I unlock the door to the house and Renee turns to me, her face lit up with happiness, that I finally break the surface and breathe again.

~ O ~

Thanks so much for reading!