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Darkest Before the Dawn

Summary:
The door opened behind me, with a cold gust of wind suddenly sweeping through the room, rustling the papers on the desk and carrying that scent! I froze. Not again!...I sensed nothing...The fragrance was maddening. I slowly turned my head, following the scent, and there she was. Standing, back pressed against the back wall, waiting. She was haunting me. A reimagining of Twilight from Edward's perspective, starting from the very beginning...The First Time - and continuing on beyond where Midnight Sun ends. NOMINATED: 2009 Bellie's category Canon that's Better than Canon NOMINATED: 2009 Indie's Top 10 Best Canon Disclaimer: All characters, settings, and a great majority of the dialogue are the property of Stephanie Meyer.


Notes:
I wrote the first five or so chapters of Darkest Before the Dawn before I knew about/read SM’s Midnight Sun. I have since read it, but have tried to stay true to “my” version of Edward, as well as staying true to SM’s original dialogue and plot line.


20. Chapter 20 - Predator and Prey

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Chapter 20 – Predator and Prey

The Jeep hugged the curving roads as we snaked along the Olympian forest, heading north. The chilling black of the moonless night hovered over us. James followed us, running several miles behind, weaving through the darkened forest along the highway. He kept to the very periphery of my reach, fading in and out of range so that his thoughts were a whisper that crept into my mind every few minutes. His thoughts flitted randomly between the weather, Victoria—nothing related to the hunt. He repetitively tested, probed, his thoughts a relentless tapping in my head. I realized he was experimenting.

His dance of the last hour convinced me James had a gift. Laurent called it a sixth sense. I saw it before in his thoughts, by Bella’s house, when he knew the location of his prey—and we were all his prey, all part of the game he had invented. He seemed to sense the location of his quarry like some infernal GPS. In his thoughts, he smelled the fear of the hunted, rather than feeling or seeing it as Jasper did. This seemed impossible—he couldn’t actually smell us across the three or four miles that separated us. Yet, at Bella’s house, he knew I was there, even though he couldn’t see or hear me. He smelled my protectiveness hovering over Bella, his intended target…but imprecisely. There were limits to it. His range seemed to be near that of mine, as he continued to bob in and out. Then I saw it—he realized I was listening to him, as if he sensed my presence in his mind. We were both predators hunting their prey. His excitement grew as we raced through the darkness.

The little snippets I glimpsed, when he popped into range, told me he thought Bella was in the car with us. Esme’s scent disguise hadn’t lasted long, once she and Rose had stopped for gas. Victoria had called James with the news and he sent her back to Forks. As she doubled back, Esme and Rose returned as well to watch over Charlie, calling Carlisle to let him know. James suspected that Bella was in the car with us, although he wasn’t sure—he couldn’t distinguish how many of his prey were in the Jeep, without getting closer. When he crept nearer to us, I heard him, and he backed off before I could pinpoint his location. He knew I was in the Jeep—he felt me, my thoughts penetrating his—and felt sure I would keep Bella close to me. I wondered briefly, with alarm, if he could read my mind. No, I decided. If he could, he would know Bella was gone.

Having tested to find the limits of my mind reading, he used it to torment me, and to enhance his enjoyment of the game. I was his most hotly sought prize, after Bella, and he took advantage of our connection. James began to hop into my mind for short periods of time, envisioning the torments he would put Bella through. He provoked me with images of hurting her, hard enough to cause pain, but not enough to draw blood…to better draw out the suffering. At first I thought he simply enjoyed the cruelty, relishing the thought of her pain or inducing it in me—in which he wildly succeeded, in spite of my efforts to not see the images in his head. But then I realized he was probing me, trying to see if Bella was still…vulnerable…if I was still protecting her. I couldn’t imagine why—did he think I would stop? Give up and abandon her?

In between James’ water torture thought drips, Carlisle and Emmett’s thoughts intruded as well. We rarely spoke. Each knew I heard their thoughts—I had little to add. Emmett’s commitment to killing James was complete. He had no intention of giving up before reducing James to a pile of ash. There was no compunction, no hesitation, just a grim satisfaction at the idea of justice being done to a creature of evil. He periodically worried about Rose, but knew she could more than handle James’ mate, should it come to that. Carlisle, on the other hand, was filled with regret that we were going down this path. His thoughts were rife with concern about leaving Esme, knowing she was ill equipped to fight, should she have to. However, he was resigned to our hunt, knowing the only choices were allowing Bella to be killed, or killing James ourselves. He chose the lesser evil, but still saw it as that—the evil of taking another life, something he had steadfastly refused to do his entire human and immortal lives. The guilt of forcing this on Carlisle tormented me. James would die by my hand—I could spare Carlisle that indignity, at the least, even if I couldn’t erase his complicity in the killing.

A sudden downpour drenched our car and made the road slick. James’ thoughts thrust themselves into me…dark, glistening forest…wet, crunching leaves underfoot…Bella in a brightly lit room, bruises on her legs and arms just starting to blossom as she cringed in fear away from his cold, hard touch, coming again…

Bella is safe, I tried convincing myself, pushing James’ thoughts away with an image of Bella riding in the Mercedes with the maniacal Alice at the wheel and Jasper by her side, soothing her fears and filling her with artificial happiness. It partially controlled the black rage his vision brought forth in me. I didn’t realize my hands were balled into tense fists until Emmett eyed me from the front seat.

“Everything okay?” he asked, eyes narrowed.

“I’m going to kill James,” I said through clenched teeth. Emmett nodded, his eyes still sweeping me with concern. Venom pooled in my mouth, shocking me. I hadn’t had that reaction since…since that long ago time when I hunted humans, evil humans that deserved to die for the vile things they did to innocents. Emmett’s eyes grew wide, taking in the emotions playing across my face.

“Edward…” he said, wondering if I was coming unhinged and he would have to peel me off the roof. I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts. I swallowed the venom and stared at him, trying to regain control.

“I’m okay, Em,” I answered his thoughts. He looked skeptically at me.

“Look, I can’t imagine what kind of state I would be in if I was hunting someone who wanted to…hurt Rose,” he grimaced as the words twisted out of him. “But I sure as hell wouldn’t be okay.” His words fell on me but I didn’t answer.

“I’d probably be crawling out of my skin,” he continued, “or raging across the forest like an idiot. I would beat the hell out of you, if you got in my way,” he smirked, obviously trying to lighten things. I just kept staring. “Go ahead, take a swing. I can take it.” I looked away from him and stared out the window at the lurid, twisted pines, shiny with the rain.

“Jesus, Edward. Say something,” Emmett pleaded.

“I’m going to kill James,” I repeated, still looking out the window. Emmett glanced at Carlisle, who shook his head. Carlisle thought I needed to prepare myself for this fight, and I was best left alone to do it. Convinced I was even crazier than usual, but still focused on the task at hand, Emmett fell silent. James’ thoughts knifed me again…rain falling, dripping off…the smell of my hatred and anger…Bella unharmed, cowering in a corner, the scent of her fear mixing with the floral perfume that would make her blood so delicious to taste…

I wrenched my thoughts back into my own head. The fiend inside me had thrilled to that last image, crashing his head against the icy prison I had locked him away in. Venom filled my mouth again, bringing a flush of pleasure at the idea of tasting Bella’s blood. Anger coursed through me, reaching a new peak. I would not let James undo all I had worked for with Bella. If the beast inside me was unleashed, the only victim would be him as I tore his body into pieces with my hands and teeth. My clenched fists trembled slightly with the force of it. James deserved to die and sweet vengeance would be mine when he did. Shocked at my own bloodlust, I fought against the horror show that James inflicted on me. I envisioned Bella safe, cuddled in my arms as I gently held her warm body next to me. My body stilled again.

I would do anything to protect her and keep her safe. If killing James was wrong, then so be it. If I had to unleash the demon inside to do it, I would. Dread crept into me. I knew, from the beginning, that this could be a one way trip. Even if I killed James, I couldn’t guarantee Bella’s safety as long as her delicate, warm self existed in the world of vampires. I despaired thinking how I could barely protect her from myself. Once this was done, if I could not cage the fiend again, then I would have to leave…go somewhere far away and find a way to die. Then she would be safe, she would live, and that was all that mattered to me. My resolve turned cold, hope fleeing before it.

We drove all night, turning south to go round Puget Sound and leading him as far away from Forks as possible. He still followed us, lingering at the edge of my perception. He was waiting…waiting for us to split up, or to have Victoria join him to improve their chances. We wanted to double back on him, but it was difficult to do without alerting him. We skirted Seattle and turned north again, the pouring rain and dark scenery punctuated only by James’ repeated visions of tormenting Bella.

The sun lit the sky so slowly that I did not realize I had been blinded by the brilliance for some time. I suddenly shaded my eyes. A haze from James’ abuse clouded my mind. Emotional wreckage littered the battlefield where James’ thoughts and my own warred. His were saturated with Bella’s blood and pain…mine were filled with her warm hands and soft skin. We left the main highway as the traffic picked up, trailing off into the North Cascades Forest and getting out of the public view.

Carlisle devised a plan whereby we would trap James. He would drive through the long winding mountain roads of the National Forest until we were well into the park. We would wait until we were out of James’ range, then Carlisle would stop, drop Emmett and me, and keep driving. We would circle back the way we came, while Carlisle drove deeper into the forest. Once James realized that we had split, he would have to make a choice. He would assume Bella was still in the car, and that the vampires had gone on foot. He would attack Carlisle in the car, and Emmett and I would be right behind him, ready to ambush. Emmett agreed readily.

“That’s fine,” I said, “but I’m going alone.”

“What?” replied Emmett, aghast. “No way. I’m sticking with you.”

“We’ll never get close to him, Em. He knows I can read him. He’ll sense us coming and run before we can reach him. Then he’ll know we don’t have Bella, and our ruse will be blown. We’ll lose him.” I sighed, thinking of how this would play out…how it had to be. Besides, I wouldn’t force Carlisle to face James alone—to have to be the one to kill him. “The only way to get close to him is to get him to attack me.”

Emmett gave me a look of disbelief, and thought I truly had gone mad. “That sounds like a good way to get yourself killed…” he said, suspiciously.

“He’s not going to kill me, Em. I’m going to kill him.” My tone was flat, and my thoughts were invaded by James’ again…brilliant flashes of green blurring past…Bella lying broken on the floor, blood drained from her now still body…I tried to fight it with an image of Bella lying on her bed, breathing rhythmically…

Emmett slapped me lightly on the cheek, trying to awaken me from my trance. “Edward! What is wrong with you?” His eyes were wide, and slightly panicked.

“It’s just James…” I said blurrily, still coming out of it. “He’s thinking about hurting Bella,” I said curtly. Emmett shook his head slightly wondering how I could take it without going crazy. His hatred for James solidified into an urgent need for vengeance. Carlisle wondered at the strength I must have to endure James’ thoughts, but was filled with concern all the same.

“You are in no shape to hunt, Edward,” said Carlisle, clearly thinking that Emmett or he should be the one to go instead. You’re too distracted and could get hurt. I flashed my eyes at him. Getting hurt was the least of my concerns.

“This is the only way. You drop me, and continue on.” Carlisle examined me in the rear view mirror, reserving judgment until he heard me out. “I’ll run slowly, pretend that I’m carrying Bella. James won’t be able to resist attacking. He wants to take Bella while I watch, wants to see the anguish on my face…” I trailed off for a moment, reminding myself that Bella was safe, somewhere in Phoenix, holed up in a hotel with Alice and Jasper guarding her. “He will come close, not caring that I can read him, because he wants me to know he’s coming. It’s part of his game. Then, before he gets close enough to realize Bella’s not there, I turn and attack. When it’s done, we’ll rendezvous just outside Mineral Park camp ground.”

I waited to see what they would say. Emmett still thought I was on a suicide mission. Carlisle was less suspicious and he could see the resolve on my face. “It’s too dangerous, Edward. Laurent was clear about how lethal he was.”

“Laurent didn’t know I could read him. He won’t be expecting me to attack, so I’ll catch him off guard. I’ll have the advantage, Carlisle.” My vision cleared a little as I stared at him. I smiled grimly at the mirror. “Besides, if he kills me, his game won’t be any fun anymore…he doesn’t want to kill me, he wants to torment me…through Bella.” The last words felt like they were wrenched straight out of my chest.

Carlisle slowly nodded. You are sure about this? Esme won’t forgive me if you get yourself killed.

I let out a strangled snort that just further confirmed Emmett’s suspicions that I had lost my mind. He looked rapidly back and forth between us. “You can’t be serious,” he said to Carlisle.

Carlisle looked calmly at him. “If it was Rose, what would you do?” Emmett’s features twisted and he cursed at Carlisle. He thought rapidly for a moment, considering all the possible outcomes.

“I want to kill him as much as you,” Emmett said, turning back to me. I raised an eyebrow slightly. “Okay, almost as much as you. I don’t want him anywhere near Bella. That girl’s already wormed her way into my heart, and he deserves to die just for thinking those things about her.” I smiled slightly at him. “It might work, if he thought you had Bella…” he continued, wavering and not seeing a better option, as much as he tried. “I still don’t like it,” he concluded.

“If I don’t kill him, you’ll get your chance, Emmett,” I said wryly. “If he escapes, he’ll come back after you…he’ll think you have Bella.” He reluctantly nodded once, not completely convinced and still eyeing me as if he thought I was bent on killing myself.

“You keep the backpack,” I added. “We can come back and burn the pieces after I meet up with you at the rendezvous point.” Our vampire killing kit would just slow me down if I had to carry it through the forest.

I lay in wait for him, a queasy eagerness for the hunt sitting in the pit of my stomach. As soon as James slipped another one of his torture fantasies into my head, we would stop and put our plan into action. His thought attack hit me with particular ferocity this time…Bella lying prone on the floor of brightly lit room, bruised but not bloodied…her fear mixed with horror as James held her down and traced his hand along her jaw, down her neck, slowly brushing the back of his hand across her chest…a growl escaped my lips, causing Emmett to shoot me a look of unease. Concern etched Carlisle’s face.

“It’s time,” I said. Carlisle slammed the brakes, skidding to the dirt side of the road. I flew out of the car before it stopped and they disappeared in a cloud of dust. I sprinted into the forest, down a short ravine and then up the mountainside. The seconds ticked by as I streaked past the moss covered trees, putting distance between us before James would check in and realize I had left the car. I kept my mind tuned, probing for his thoughts. The spots of sun that penetrated the forest blurred past as I ran. I would slow down, feigning a human pace, as soon as James sensed me. I vowed that the visual suffering James had been inflicting on me would be paid back in full very soon. The sun broke through the trees more frequently the higher I climbed on the mountain, creating flashes of light as it bounced off the white granite boulders.

There…he sprung into my head, confused, sensing we had split. I dropped my speed to a slow lope as I continued to climb the mountain. He stood in the forest, just off the road, black asphalt peeking through the trees. He felt two sets of prey fleeing…one in the car, one in the forest. He paused, wondering what we were trying. Were we attempting to trap him? Lead him away? He knew he had to decide quickly or we would be out of range. Then he felt me scanning him, his head whipping in my direction. He realized that I was moving…slowly…and it dawned on him. I was trying to escape with Bella, while the others in the car were luring him away. Wicked delight rushed through him. He shot toward me, plunging into the forest, thinking how he would take Bella from me…him springing on me, ripping Bella from my arms…I’m unable to hold her, protect her, without hurting her…I had no choice but to let her go…

He took the bait.

I hurried my stride, showing him I knew he was coming, pretending to attempt an escape. I wanted to draw him closer…closer…all my senses sharpened…listening, probing…I slowly lured him into my trap. He sniffed the air, trying to catch Bella’s scent as he drew nearer, to pinpoint where we were. Dappled sunlight in his mind showed him still farther down the mountain. He provoked me with his thoughts, trying to inflame my fear and anger, hoping to fill me with dread as he hunted us…him holding Bella, one icy arm locked around her waist as he slowly caressed her with his free hand…deeply inhaling her scent, forcing me to watch as he brushed his lips against her exposed, pulsing throat…

A growl erupted from my throat. He heard me and pleasure ran through him. He turned in the direction of the sound, picking up his pace, his breath quickening a little with the excitement of the torment to come. Light flashed as he raced up the mountainside. He closed in…I could hear his feet whispering through the underbrush as he ran…

I turned, soundlessly, and rushed toward the noise. He stopped suddenly, realizing that I had turned on him. He sniffed madly around to find Bella’s scent, just now understanding that it wasn’t there. I tricked him. Bella wasn’t here. He turned and fled to the right, fear coursing through him now. The fiend in me surged to the surface and I snarled as I hunted him, flying across the mountainside. I am faster than him. I will catch him. His mind filled with alarm, but it wasn’t fear of me. He dreaded losing the game, dismayed I might catch him before he could take Bella from me. After that, he didn’t care if I fought him—in fact, he relished it…then he would see the agony on my face. But not now…

He raced through the trees, faster than I would have thought, but I slowly gained on him. My nostrils flared as I hunted him, sucking in his scent. He leapt over a crest, rushing down into a valley and crossing a dirt trail. I inched closer as I flew in pursuit…the fiend thrilled to an image of my own creation…me ripping large chunks of James apart, destroying him piece by piece…

Suddenly a scent smashed into me. Human. My head whipped around to the source and my body involuntarily followed it, lunging out of the forest into a clearing, a snarl ripping from my throat before I realized what was happening. A hiker stood in the clearing, facing away, frozen in fear from the sound. I jerked to a stop, locking my body in place as the fiend inside raged to be let loose, thirsting for the blood I could feel pounding through the hiker’s chest. I wanted to plunge my teeth into his neck. I shuddered.

An agony of terror quaked through the hiker. Sunlight glinted off my skin like a thousand rainbows. I staggered backward, body shaking with barely contained bloodlust, until I was hidden in the forest. The hiker’s limbs finally unlocked from the fear holding them. He looked around frantically to find the source of the unholy sound he had heard. He didn’t see me. He turned and ran straight toward me, trying to find the path back to the safety of his campground but instead heading unwittingly into the arms of the waiting fiend. My eyes widened with horror, transfixed as he ran towards me, the beast taking deep gulps of blood scented air and fighting desperately to take him. With tremendous effort, I wrenched my eyes away from him and sped away in the opposite direction, disappearing into the forest.

The cool pine scented air washed over me as I ran, wiping away the human’s smell and the confusion that came with it. I searched furiously for James’ scent. I could no longer hear his thoughts. In the short time I had been sidetracked by the human, James had managed to slip out of my range. I growled in frustration and plunged ahead, casting around until I picked up his trail. I traced it down into a large clearing, leaping over boulders as I went. I gave the nearby campgrounds wide berth and picked up his trail again near a narrow river that emptied out of the meadow. He must have splashed through the water, heading upstream, because I lost his scent there. I leapt back and forth across the river, searching the banks for his trail, but it was gone. I lost him. Fists balled up in rage, I fought back the urge to let loose a guttural howl of anger that he would surely hear. I wouldn’t give him that satisfaction.

Shoulders slumped, I cursed myself. I let him escape. I couldn’t stop him. I failed to protect Bella. The images that James had planted in my head started replaying of their own volition…Bella writhing in pain as he pummeled her vulnerable, soft body…his triumph as James drained the last of her blood…I pounded my head with my fists, driving out those thoughts and trying to concentrate. I could hate myself later…now I had to think. I remembered that he would likely try to find the Jeep again. I had lost some time, but not much.

I leapt back across the river and sped through the forest, heading to the rendezvous site. If he believed Bella was in the car with Carlisle and Emmett, he might strike, and we may yet be able to take him. I probed carefully for his thoughts as I threaded through the shadowed tree trunks. He was still out of range, but as I neared Mineral Park, I heard Carlisle and Emmett—they were parked out of sight of the campers, on a side service road that led into the forest. They were waiting for me, worried. Agitation filled Emmett as he paced back and forth in front of the Jeep, thinking he was foolish to let me go alone. Carlisle calmly leaned against the car, scanning the forest for any sounds of stalking vampires above the noisy campers nearby. As I drew closer to them, I heard James…he ran alongside the winding mountain road, heading toward the campground. He must have doubled back to where he last sensed the Jeep. I couldn’t tell how close he was, but he knew they were up ahead, off the main road. The two of us raced, converging on the Jeep, Carlisle and Emmett unaware of our imminent arrival. The thrill of the hunt filled him. He hurtled toward the Jeep, and Bella, convinced he had thwarted me this time, leaving me lost in the woods, searching for him. I rocketed toward him, the fiend silently roaring his approval as I envisioned the shock on his face as I sprung from nowhere and tackled him.

James stopped suddenly, frustrated. He had sensed me approaching from the side and then felt me probing his thoughts. He growled out his anger, and then turned and ran back in the opposite direction, quickly out of my range. I pulled up short and briefly considered following him. I knew he would sense me coming, but I might be able to overtake him. I was faster than him. Not wanting to lose him again, I turned and ran in hot pursuit, following the road away from Carlisle and Emmett. I probed as far as I could, but I couldn’t find him. He must have quickly left the road, dashing into the forest to elude me. Cursing myself again, I turned around and ran back to the Jeep. I growled, frustrated, as I broke from the forest and joined Emmett and Carlisle. Their expectant faces quickly turned to concern at the look on mine as I approached.

“I lost him.”

Carlisle sighed, disappointed but glad I was unharmed. Emmett was equal parts frustrated and glad I had come back in one piece.

“Will he come here?” Emmett asked, impatient. He briefly thought that maybe I wouldn’t have lost him, if I had allowed him to come. I snarled at him, anger and frustration gripping me. I wanted to smash something, and Emmett’s face looked like an inviting target.

“No,” I spat out. “He knows I’m here and just ran off.” My frustration drained away as I mulled that it was my fault James escaped. “He suspects Bella isn’t with us…”

“Then he might be heading back to Forks to find Bella. We have to follow him,” said Carlisle. His thoughts churned with worry, thinking of Esme and Rose, back in Forks with Victoria and James both.

We quickly slipped into the car and drove back the way we came, searching for James. I scanned for his thoughts as we wove in and out of the sun, the trees throwing spiky shadows on the road. Near the entrance to the park, I picked up James’ thoughts again. He was talking to Victoria, now that he was back in cell phone range outside the forest. She had checked Bella’s house early in the day, before the sun came out, and now was lying low in the forest, out of sight. He told her to keep searching for Bella’s trail, and that it was possible she was still in Forks. When he sensed my thoughts probing his, he hung up and began thinking about the sunny weather and the pine cones scattered around his feet. His diversionary tactics prevented me from seeing everything he said to Victoria. But he followed us as we left the forest.

“He’s found us again,” I told them. Emmett looked from Carlisle to me.

“Is he going to attack?” Emmett asked, hopefully.

“No.” He followed us slowly, testing and dropping just out of range, but watching where we went. Clouds started to roll in, piling up against the mountainside where I had just lost my only chance to stop James.

“So, what’s the plan?” Emmett asked. I sighed. Frustrated and mentally exhausted from the unsuccessful hunt, I didn’t know what our next move was. I couldn’t believe I had let him slip from my grasp, all because I, once again, couldn’t control the beast. Emmett wanted to try to hunt him again.

“Head north,” I instructed. “We’ll think of something.”

James continued to follow us, suspicious that Bella was not in the car, but unwilling to take the chance of losing us. We led him north, toward Vancouver. We stopped for gas, but he kept his distance. He was waiting for something, but occupied his mind whenever he was in range with meaningless distractions, or visions of torment for Bella. His patience was cold and calculating. He was biding his time and enjoying the cat and mouse game that we played in my mind.

We drove further north. The rain pelted us, creating a steady drumming on the roof of the car. The dark closed in as we weaved into the Canadian Provincial forest. Emmett was thinking of traps we could lay for him, but I was convinced James wouldn’t fall for any of them. He was suspicious of us now, and planned to wait until…what? Until we grew weary? Gave up? He kept probing to see if I still wanted to protect Bella, egging me on with his sadistic visions. It was slowly driving me mad.

The sun rose sometime while we wove along endless mountain roads, obscured by a thick cloud blanket that obscured the mountaintops. Yesterday’s sun drenched day was gone, along with the chance to capture James. For a long stretch, nearly an hour, James disappeared from my thoughts. At first, relief washed through me. I closed my eyes and blocked out the mostly random thoughts of Carlisle and Emmett. I envisioned standing in Bella’s room, watching her sleep…Her chest slowly rising and falling, exhaling that sweet scent of hers that filled the room with temptation…I drank in the sight and smell of it, claiming a calm I had not felt in two days, since the nomads had heard the crack of my bat and changed everything. Then it slipped away, as I realized that too many minutes had ticked away since I last heard James’ thoughts. Had he abandoned the hunt?

My eyes snapped open. We were still deep in the Provincial Forest.

“Head out of the forest,” I said, breaking a silence that had stretched for hours. Carlisle’s eyes darted to look at me in the mirror.

“What’s happened?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I think he’s left the forest, maybe to call Victoria.” I could hear his concern for Esme, again. His thoughts rarely left her, back in Forks with only Rose to console and protect her. “Maybe we should get back in cell phone range and check in with Esme, too” I added softly.

He smiled weakly, grateful for my understanding, and turned the Jeep around to head back out of the forest and towards the city. Emmett was quiet, but thinking furiously about this new development. He wanted desperately to trap James, somehow get close to him without him realizing, but couldn’t come up with anything. It took nearly an hour to get far enough out of the forest to get enough signal strength for the phone. I kept searching for James’ thoughts, determined and yet flinching at re-establishing our twisted connection. Emmett took over driving as Carlisle called Esme.

“Hello?” Esme answered.

“Hello, love,” Carlisle said softly, relief in his voice to hear hers.

“Is everything alright?” she asked with a nervous quaver. Carlisle’s flinched, thinking things were definitely not alright, but he didn’t want to alarm her.

“We’ve momentarily lost James, but I’m sure we’ll find him again shortly.” He glanced over his shoulder at me, and I shook my head to let him know I still didn’t hear James. Looking out the side window, gazing a thousand miles away, and the concern in his thoughts leaked out into his voice. “Is everything alright there?”

“Everything’s fine. Charlie is safe…I’m not letting him out of my sight. Please tell Edward, I know he will worry. Rose has been following that wretched woman all night.” Carlisle smiled affectionately at Esme’s bitter tone. “She’s been everywhere…the airport, the roads all over town, the school…but she doesn’t seem to be finding anything.” I heard smugness in Esme’s tone, but her voice was still tinged with worry.

Just be safe. Don’t take any chances. Please don’t get hurt. But all Carlisle said aloud was, “Stick with Rose, when you can, okay?”

“Rose and I are having a grand time. Who knew we could have so much fun, hanging out in the forest outside the Forks Police Station?”

Emmett snorted, thinking Rose was absolutely going to kill him when this was all done. He gestured to Carlisle to give him the phone.

“Esme, darling, I believe Emmett would like to speak to Rose,” Carlisle said with a smile.

“Alright. Here she is.”

Emmett held the phone up to his ear, his smile a mile wide.

“Yeah?” Rose said, disgust dripping from her voice.

“So, how’s the forest, Rose?” Emmett said lightly, teasing.

“You are going to pay for this, Em. I just haven’t figured out how yet.”

“Take your time with that, gorgeous. Meanwhile, kick that redhead’s ass for me, will you? Her boyfriend’s really starting to piss me off.”

There was a small laugh from the other end of the phone. “I thought I was just supposed to follow her…”

“Yeah, well, if there were some opportunity to do some ass-kicking, please don’t hold back on my account. Or Edward’s, for that matter,” he said, throwing a look over his shoulder to me. “I’m getting kind of frustrated up here. Not a lot of action going on.”

“Poor baby,” replied Rose, teasing, but with a hint of concern.

“Yeah, poor me. Miss you. I want you in one piece when I come home, okay?” Emmett ended softly, his bravado fading for a moment.

“Well, hurry up and do that, will you? I’m getting tired of this game.”

“I’ll be home just as soon as we get the job done, love.” The steely resolve in Emmett’s voice was coated with a layer of sweetness.

Rose sighed. “Right.”

“Miss you.”

“You said that already.”

“Still mean it.”

“Alright. Just come home, okay?” Rose’s voice was suddenly soft.

“Soon. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Bye.”

Emmett flipped the phone shut and handed it back to Carlisle, a small smile playing on his face. I rolled my eyes and continued scanning for James. Emmett kept driving further out of the forest, heading for Vancouver. Emmett and Carlisle’s thoughts drifted to Forks, and I thought briefly that I should tell them to return. I would pursue James on my own, find some way to trap him, hunt him down on foot if I had to, but I realized Emmett would never go for it. He meant it when he said he would stay until we got James. Then a whisper of James’ thoughts filtered through. I focused on him and saw that he had just finished calling Victoria, frustrated that she still had not found Bella. He sensed me almost immediately, and began to think about multiplication tables as he probed to find where we were.

“James is following us again,” I said, eyes unfocussed and trying to see through his. “He’s somewhere in the suburbs.” I probed deeper, trying to figure out what he was trying to hide from me. “Vancouver. He’s going to the airport in Vancouver.”

James felt my intrusion and concentrated on Bella, bringing an especially vivid fantasy to life…Bella screaming my name…Edward! Edward!...as she lay broken on the floor, blood flowing from several wounds, all over her body, as if she had been bitten in many places…her aroma filled the air as the fresh blood surged from her body…the vision hit me like a punch to the stomach and then the fiend in me swelled at the sight of Bella’s blood spilling on the floor. I curled over on the seat, doubled up in the pain.

“Hey!” Emmett said, alarmed and reaching back to touch my shoulder, his thoughts filled with dread and not understanding what was happening to me.

“Edward!” Carlisle’s thoughts swirled around me, but I couldn’t pay attention to them. I was lost in my own internal battle, trying to purge the vision from my head and reign in the bloodlust it caused, venom gushing in my mouth. I swallowed it back and, slowly, the car came back into focus. James drifted out of range. Emmett and Carlisle both stared at me from the front seat, horrified looks on their faces.

“Just…James…” I ground out between clenched teeth. I sat upright again, uncurling my fingers from the fists tucked up against my stomach. Carlisle recognized that I had regained control, and turned slowly away, marveling at my strength. Emmett continued to stare, his thoughts frantic with concern for me, but silent. What the hell, Edward… he thought, turning to look forward at the road and glancing at me in the rear view mirror. As the haze lifted from my mind, I remembered what I said just before James assaulted me.

“We have to get to the airport,” I hissed. “He’s going somewhere but I don’t know where. We have to get there before he leaves…”

Before I finished speaking, Emmett floored the car, vastly exceeding the speed limit. I continued searching gingerly for James’ thoughts, as well as scanning for any law enforcement we might encounter on the way to the airport. The suburban houses and malls sped by as we flew through the city to the airport on the west side of town. When we were halfway through the city, I finally caught a glimpse of his thoughts. He was getting out of a taxi, walking into the airport. I growled in frustration. Somehow he had beaten us there. I searched his mind for his destination, but he was only thinking about tormenting Bella and I pulled back, trying to keep from experiencing the horror again.

“He’s already there,” I told Emmett and Carlisle. Emmett growled as we were trapped behind the afternoon traffic jamming up the city’s streets. I took a deep breath, steeled myself and then searched for James’ thoughts again. He was checking in, thinking about conjugating verbs in Latin, and carefully keeping his eyes and thoughts away from his destination. We crawled to a stop.

“I’m going on foot,” I said, and quickly exited the car. I wanted to run, not caring who saw me. He already knew I was coming, but he was trapped in the airport. If I could get there before he took off…I ran as fast as humanly acceptable, but the eyes of the pedestrians were molasses dragging at my feet. When the traffic un-jammed, Emmett caught up to me in the car and I rode the last stretch with them. During that long mile, I watched as he stood in line and handed the boarding agent his ticket, flashing a wide grin but carefully not looking at his ticket or the boarding gate number. By the time we arrived at the airport, James was aboard his plane, but I couldn’t see which one. He busied himself reading the airline magazine. We stood, stymied, in front of our car, parked illegally in the passenger drop-off zone. He was so near, but we couldn’t touch him.

“Where is he going?” Carlisle asked.

“I don’t know!” I shouted at him, frustrated beyond belief. He had slipped through my grasp again, and this time, who knew where he was going. My only guess was back to Forks, and I know Carlisle was thinking the same thing with alarm. He whipped out the phone and called Esme to warn her that James may be on his way back.

“We have to get back to Forks,” said Emmett, thinking along the same lines, not wanting James within a hundred miles of Rose. I nodded and we quickly climbed in the car and set off. Carlisle hung up from Esme and called Alice.

“Alice,” he said.

“Carlisle,” Alice breathed, and the dread in her voice hitched my anxiety. What’s wrong?

“Is everything alright there?” Carlisle asked, not liking the sound in her voice either.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Good. Look, we’ve been tracking James, but he just boarded a plane and we’ve lost him. We’re not sure where he’s headed, but we think it might be back to Forks. We’re heading back there now.”

“I just saw him,” she interjected. “There were two rooms and he was there, waiting for something. One was dark, the other had mirrors. But, we don’t know where the rooms are. Whatever made him get on that plane…it was leading him to those rooms.”

I motioned impatiently for him to give the phone to me.

“Alice, is Bella alright?” I demanded.

“Yes,” she said, and I sighed in immense relief.

A little more calm, I asked, “Can I speak to her, please?”

She called Bella to the phone. “Hello?” It was the sweetest sound I had heard in days and far better than my imaginings.

“Bella,” I breathed her name out.

“Oh, Edward! I was so worried.”

“Bella,” I sighed in frustration, “I told you not to worry about anything but yourself.” At least she is safe…she is safe…I kept replaying that thought over and over in my mind.

“Where are you?” she asked.

“We’re outside of Vancouver. Bella, I’m sorry,” I choked out, filled with regret, “we lost him. He seems suspicious of us—he’s careful to stay just far enough away that I can’t hear what he’s thinking.” Most of the time, except for when he’s torturing me… “But he’s gone now—it looks like he got on a plane. We think he’s heading back to Forks to start over.”

“I know. Alice saw that he got away.”

I cringed. Already she knew that I failed to protect her. “You don’t have to worry, though,” I tried to reassure her. I didn’t want her to panic. “He won’t find anything to lead him to you. You just have to stay there and wait till we find him again.” I prayed that Bella would listen to me and not do anything foolish.

“I’ll be fine. Is Esme with Charlie?”

“Yes—the female has been in town. She went to the house, but while Charlie was at work. She hasn’t gone near him, so don’t be afraid. He’s safe with Esme and Rosalie watching.”

“What is she doing?”

“Probably trying to pick up on the trail. She’s been all through the town during the night. Rosalie traced her through the airport, all the roads around town, the school…she’s digging, Bella, but there’s nothing to find.” I tried to sound certain, but doubt was nagging at my mind. Why was James flying back there? What had she found?

“And you’re sure Charlie’s safe?”

“Yes, Esme won’t let him out of her sight. And we’ll be there soon. If the tracker gets anywhere near Forks, we’ll have him.” I hoped…I wasn’t sure how we were going to trap him, but with all of us looking for him, in the small town of Forks, surely there must be a way…

“I miss you,” she whispered, bringing me out of my thoughts of hunting James.

“I know, Bella,” I breathed. “Believe me, I know. It’s like you’ve taken half my self away with you.”

“Come and get it, then,” she teased.

“Soon, as soon as I possibly can. I will make you safe first,” I vowed to her. I didn’t have the luxury of missing her too much. I had to focus on finding and destroying James.

“I love you,” she said, melting my steely resolve and wracking me with guilt. I had put her in so much danger…

“Could you believe that, despite everything I’ve put you through, I love you, too?”

“Yes, I can, actually.”

“I’ll come for you soon,” I promised.

“I’ll be waiting.”

Unable to say goodbye, I simply closed the phone. I held it for a moment, cradled in my palm, before I gave it back to Carlisle.

The miles slipped away under the frenetic speed of Emmett at the wheel. The six hour drive would take us less than four at this rate. The sun dipped and the sky grew dark. We skirted the water most of the way, the highway splitting the harbor towns and ports. My eyes looked unseeing at the streaky lights of the houses and shops blurring by, separated by inky blackness. I held her words in my mind…I love you…I miss you…I’ll be waiting…they hung like sweet drops of hope in the darkness.