AN: Hello again everyone. I'd like to take this little piece here for something important. Life is hard, it's a lot. If you're struggling, if you feel overwhelmed, it's okay. Take a moment for yourself, even if that moment is reading this silly little fic. If it makes you feel better, take it. You deserve it, even if you think you don't.
As always, I do not own Twilight or its characters.
They searched the surrounding forest for hours.
Bella didn't have much hope of finding Charlie alive, and everytime she thought too long about it she could feel warm tears tracing down her face. Thankfully the vampires around her were kind enough to not bring it up.
But now it was getting late, late enough that Bella began to worry about how they were going to handle the following morning when Chief Swan didn't return to work.
"Bella." Jasper's voice was soft and muted, perfectly fitting the dark dampness of the forest around them.
"I know." Her voice barely broke out of a whisper, and even then it sounded scratchy to her own ears. She rubbed furiously at her wet face and eyes, cursing under her breath. "Fuck. I know. I know we have to head back."
Jasper's cold fingers wrapped around her wrists, gently prying them away from her face. She glared up at him, her fleeting anger deflating at the remorseful look in his golden eyes.
She took a shuddering breath and buried her face in his chest, her arms wrapping themselves tightly around his waist. Jasper's hand went to the back of her hair, cradling her head close.
"It could be an animal attack." His voice was a soothing rumble that rolled through her like thunder. "We stage it up, cover those words on the wall with some more mountain lion blood…"
"Charlie should have some of his blood at the hospital...I know he donates. Well, he did. Did donate." Her voice was a wet mumble, and she could feel her tears again, this time slicking Jasper's shirt to his body.
His fingers twitched in her hair before he wrapped his other arm around her waist, hitching her almost off her feet and even closer to him. She took another shaky breath.
"That's a good idea, darlin'. I'll have Char break in and grab it." He shifted, and now her toes barely grazed the ground, holding her weight in his one arm effortlessly. "She'll be more careful 'bout it than Pete. No one would even be able to tell it's missin'."
A moment, quiet and heavy where neither of them spoke. Bella tightened her grip on him, hands fisting into the back of Jasper's t-shirt, rubbing her face against the damp fabric at his chest. She tilted her face up slightly, surprised to find that with little effort she could tuck her face into the crook of his neck. She did so, her lips brushing barely against the scarred skin peeking out from his t-shirt collar there. She felt the way Jasper stiffened before all the tension seemed to fall out of him all at once.
"What time is it?" Jasper shuddered at the way her breath hit his neck, and the edge of his ear. Reluctantly he pulled back to look at her.
So almost midnight, just like Bella thought. Somehow it felt like it should be later, like the weight of everything that had happened today should have weighed time down.
"We should check when the last movie in Port Angeles was. I can call the police and claim I walked into the house like that." It hurt. It hurt so much to cover up Charlie's death like this when it was her fault. But she couldn't risk the truth, couldn't risk the town finding out about what Jasper was.
Keeping secrets had gotten Charlie killed, the least she could do was make sure it wasn't completely in vain.
"Bella...are you sure? This is going to be a news story for a while. Forks is a small town but...he was still Chief of Police." Jasper searched her face, somehow still surprised by the quiet strength he found there. "We can frame your death too. You don't have to go through that."
Bella shook her head, eyes glassy but determined.
"Charlie deserves better than that. He-he…" Her voice tried to break but she took a breath and steeled herself. "He deserves to have someone make sure he's honored right."
Jasper nodded, agreeing and in awe of this human girl before him.
"A'right. A'right darlin'. You're right. We'll do it your way."
It was a circus. A complete and utter clusterfuck.
Oh not the framing, that went perfectly according to plan. Jasper killed a mountain lion while Charlotte stole from the hospital blood bank and Peter drove Bella home. It was almost laughable how easy it was to make the house look like a mountain lion broke in and dragged Charlie off. In fact, Victoria had managed to do some of the work for them. The torn piece of Charlie's shirt stuck to the broken door frame with drags of splotchy blood trails really sold the story.
No. The problem was the story was too good of a sell.
News outlets from all over the state had flocked to Bella's door, camping out on the street and sidewalks where Charlie's deputies couldn't make them leave. Cameras were constantly trained towards the house, which Bella couldn't even stay in because it was an active crime scene. Everyone gave her pitying looks, from the people of Forks, to the neighboring police chiefs that drove in to handle one of their own. It made Bella feel dead inside, the way they all treated her like a victim; like she really was that poor teenage girl that walked into her home torn apart and her dad missing.
There were whispers from the deputies about an animal attack. Whispers that cut off abruptly whenever they thought she might be listening.
She should be thrilled that their plan was working so well, that it was playing out exactly as they hoped.
Instead, she just felt hollow.
She would watch herself; late at night with the glow of the TV lighting up her hotel room.
Her face was all over the local news, and she even caught her eyes staring back at her on the international news one night.
It was so prevalent that even Renee had emailed her, saying that she left a message on the house phone before realizing Bella wouldn't get it. She said Paul was due to tour to a neighboring state and did Bella need her there? She would be there if Bella needed her.
Bella had the hateful thought that Renee would be there more for the cameras than for her. After all, she hadn't mentioned Charlie once in the long rambling email.
Jasper's phone wouldn't stop ringing. It got so bad that he turned it to silent, but still the phone screen lit up; a bright white counterpoint to the blue glow of the TV.
He would hold her hand those late nights, watching the same newsreel play on a loop with her. 5 o'clock news, 10 o' clock news, the little rolling ribbon of updates across the bottom of the screen that mentioned Charlie's name every fifteen to twenty minutes.
He never made her change the channel, never tried to alter her emotions, never suggested that they leave town before Charlie's service.
He left her to her grief and simply held her hand. It was something that Bella didn't ever know if she could properly thank him for.
She didn't go to school. No one expected her to. In fact, when people did see her about time they always looked so shocked. Well, until she told them that she was planning Charlie's service; then they just looked pitying.
It was strange to plan a service with no body. To make memorial plans and have them announced on the nightly news hours after they were made. She was learning that the town had loved Charlie, and had cared for him in a protective manner that wasn't so unlike how he watched out for the town. Whenever she tried to pay for something for the service she had been waved off, even forcibly talked out of it when she pressed. There would always be some story attached, some little moment that involved the person and Charlie that seemed to make up for the cost of anything.
'Chief Swan was a good man.' was a mantra that played in her head whenever she closed her eyes.
Two days later they gave the verdict that the case was closed. They had determined it was Charlie's blood at the scene. That the blood on the walls was a mix of his and a mountain lion. They even found a mountain lion about ten miles from the house, bleeding from a gunshot wound on its shoulder. When they trapped it and put it under it was determined there was still a bullet lodged in the wound; a bullet that matched Charlie's had gun that had been found at the scene, smudged with blood.
It was a nice touch.
Bella thinks they killed the lion. At least she thinks that's what the sheriff from the next county tried to tell her when he stood in front of her with sad eyes, holding his cap in front of him. She nodded. Or at least she thinks she did because he had left her alone after handing her the keys to the house. Charlie's house.
She moved back in that night, after foolishly trying to argue with the hotel manager to let her pay for her room.
The house smelled like bleach and cleaner. The wallpaper from the stairway hallway had been removed, the broken door jam repaired with a new door hung in place. The answering machine blinked it's red light at her. There were still news reporters on the street, but it was fewer than there had been. The last few stragglers would probably leave after Charlie's service tomorrow. She closed all the curtains at the front of the house anyway.
She climbed the stairs up to Charlie's room. She stood in his doorway for a long time, just staring. Jasper stepped up behind her, placing his hand on her shoulder in a show of silent support. He had probably snuck in from the new back door, or maybe her window. Bella didn't bother turning to look at him, his hand on her shoulder was enough.
Charlie's bed was made. It was a bit haphazard, the pillow sticking out of the top and the duvet wrinkled, but it was made.
She didn't know why that hurt so much.
Slowly, Bella closed the door, then turned around to look up at Jasper. He gave her the same soft understanding look of remorse that she had seen that night in the forest, and it made some cold part inside her defrost just a little.
"His service is tomorrow." Her voice didn't sound like her, at least, not a version of her she remembered. Everything was so different now.
"I know," Jasper whispered, pulling her close to him and tucking her into his chest. The smell of mint and leather rushed over her, making her feel like she could breathe again. "I'll be there."
She huffed a laugh.
"So will the rest of the town." She whispered, closing her eyes tightly.
"I know." She thought she might feel the press of his lips against her hair, but she could just be imagining it. "But I'll be there for more than just Chief Swan. I'll be there for you too."
Bella felt herself relax at his words, felt her body go limp in his arms knowing that he would be there to keep her up.
"Thank you." She whispered, burying her face into his chest. "Thank you."
"Anything for you, Bella." He whispered back, and this time she was certain of his lips in her hair, his lips pressing gently at her forehead. "Anything."
It was mid-day, the afternoon sun hidden behind the ever-present cloud cover that Forks was known for. It was surprisingly dry where they were all gathered outside in front of the old diner. Bella watched as one by one people stood up to stand by the podium that was set up next to the picture of Charlie in his uniform. The picture wasn't posed, no it was a snapshot taken by someone in town that Bella couldn't remember the name of. Charlie had a can of Coke in his hand, and he was smiling, maybe even in the middle of a laugh. He was looking just slightly off to the side, just enough that it almost looked like he was looking at the podium itself. Charlie's fishing pole was propped up against the table, and a scattering of wild flowers were everywhere next his photo. It was simple, surprisingly so, but Bella felt like it fit Charlie perfectly. Before anyone had gotten there, when she was still setting up, she had placed a six pack of his favorite beer under the table. She glanced there now as another deputy took the podium, and she could see a glint of the metal peeking out from under the dark green tablecloth.
She tuned out most of the service. She didn't mean to, but it became almost easy when the words started to all sound the same.
"Chief Swan was a good man-"
"I knew Charlie since high-school-"
"Charlie was a fair man-"
"Chief Swan loved this town-"
All of it blurred together into the same sentiment, into a droning of tears and condolences.
A hand on her shoulder, and Bella looks up to be eye to eye with Billy Black. Billy is dry eyed, his face like stone as he looks at her. He looks at her for what feels like a very long time before he blinks, and suddenly she sees a sheen of tears in his dark eyes.
"They are waitin' for ya, kid." Billy says, his voice gruff. Bella nods, even as she feels her throat start to close up.
"Billy, I-" None of her words will come out, but it's okay because Billy just shakes his head.
"You're a good kid, Bells. Charlie, well." Billy coughs, clearing his throat and blinking roughly. He lets go of Bella's shoulder and wheels his chair back, giving her some room. Giving him some space. "Charlie was real proud of ya, kid."
To her mortification, Bella feels her eyes well with tears. She blinks heavily, feeling a few fall onto her cheeks before she gets herself under control again. She gives Billy a nod, and can tell by his returning nod that he understands.
He may not know her guilt, but he knows her grief. Bella pretends that is enough.
She can feel the eyes on her as she walks up the aisle of folding chairs that had been set up for the service. More chairs than she ever thought she'd stand up and talk in front of.
But she would do it, she would do it for Charlie.
She finally reached the podium, and she took a deep breath before looking up, meeting a sea of eyes staring back at her.
"Charlie was a good man," She started, before taking in a shaky breath. "Charlie, Charlie was a good man, we can all agree to that. But, Charlie was more than that. He was more than a good man, or a good cop, or even a good Sheriff. Charlie was my dad."
Her voice broke, and she took in a trembling breath. She refused to look down, refused to break eye contact with what felt like the whole town. She owed Charlie this. Hell, she owed him so much more than she could ever give, but first, she owed him this.
"Charlie was my dad, and he was the best dad I could have ever asked for."
Miles away, in a quiet patch of forest, a flurry of birds flew off startled by some unknown sound. A patch of leaves moved first, and then the very ground the leaves were on began to break open.
A hand, dirt-stained and with grit and dark reddish-brown dried blood under the nails broke through the earth, followed by another hand, an arm covered with packed dirt that fell away with a quiet shift of movement. A torso followed, a head of hair that could be brown or just filthy. The man, for it was clearly a masculine body, clawed the rest of his way out of the earth. Until finally, he was completely out, crouched kneeling in the pile of leaves and soil that previously covered his resting place.
Charlie Swan opened his eyes, scanning the forest around him at a speed that should have been dizzying but wasn't. There was only one thought on his mind, only one thing that he could think of as the forest came to life in front of him in a way that felt unreal. He opened his mouth, coughing out some packed dirt with a look of disgust on his face. His voice, when it finally came out, was nearly unrecognizable.
One last look around the forest and Charlie took off, faster than he could ever remember being, his throat burning but his lungs curiously not. He had to find Bella, had to get to her before that woman, the woman whose name he couldn't remember. The woman was going to hurt Bella, Charlie knew it, even if he couldn't quite remember why. Even if all his memories were muddled in with the burn in his throat that felt like the worst shot of cheap moonshine. He had to get to Bella, he had to keep her safe.
He skidded to a stop, catching something from his peripherals that he knew he shouldn't be able to see but was able to anyway.
A river that looked far away but only took a blink to get to once Charlie thought about going to it, thought about trying to drink from it to calm the burn in his throat.
He kneeled down, faster than he should have even though it felt easy, like it was the most natural thing in the world. He went to cup his hands into the river, able to tell by the way it flowed that it was coming from some mountain top nearby, meaning it was probably clean. He stumbled, falling back on his ass in shock. Hands oddly steady even when he felt they should be trembling, he crawled forward looking over into the water again. Catching sight of his reflection in the water. Catching sight of the thing that had shocked him so thoroughly the first time.
His eyes were bright red.
AN: So, that's the final chapter everyone. I know I left it open, and that was intentional. I plan to come back to this eventually, I like the little world I've crafted here too much to leave it alone. However, I don't want y'all to sit by expecting more right away. I plan to take some time to work on my second book. I hope you all enjoyed this little story, I know I enjoyed everyone's reactions to it. As always, I'll be taking the time to go through this one and edit and post it onto my AO3 account. If you're interested in the final version, keep an eye out over there (I don't expect this to change much.)
Thank you all for sticking with this story, I hope it was worth the read. Much love 3