Requiem For A Sheriff
If the power of life was in your hands, could you stand by and let your loved ones die? Immortality can be a curse or a gift. Charlie Swan has to determine which he thinks it is.
Yes, I don't own Twilight.
2. Chapter 2
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The pain was measured in heartbeats. An eternity, an ocean of pain had to be crossed in the time it took for his heart to contract tightly, pulsing the blood through his body. Then it would relax, letting its chambers fill up with the next rush of liquid to be forced through his veins, and between each dull thud, there was the pain, surrounding him like air, impossible to hide from. The pain which couldn't be lessened, which only grew and grew, and nothing could be done with it except to endure it, in silence and paralysis.
But then it began to lessen. Miraculously, his fingers and toes started to feel free of it, and the possibility that there might be some kind of relief in sight was so astounding, so heart-achingly beautiful, that his eyes started to leak the last tears he would ever shed. Gradually, the pain crept inward, becoming more and more concentrated in the center of his body until he wanted to rip out his own insides because he was sure they'd turned into molten lava; there was nothing in the world that could possibly be hotter.
Finally the moment came when, with one final burst like a flare of hot gas flicking free from the surface of the sun, the heat was gone. Perhaps, he thought, he was now just a human shaped pile of ashes, all grey and feathery, ready to be stirred by a passing breeze. He laid there spent, having fought through the pain and relishing his victory. But then he began to wonder what victory had brought him and with that, Charles MacAlaister Swan, a newborn vampire, opened his eyes.
The first things he saw were acoustic tiles. There were 256 small holes in each tile, and he could see 640 tiles so, without asking, his brain told him there were 163,840 holes. His brows furrowed; whatever had happened to him, it certainly hadn't hurt his mental acuity. Or his perceptual acuity either. Enhanced it, perhaps.
A face hove into view upside down above him. It had skin like white marble and eyes that were yellow ochre. Not human, definitely not human. The short dark hair framed the strangely familiar face. "Hello, Charlie! Glad to see you're awake!"
It surprised him so much that his body reacted before his mind did. His view switched so suddenly, he didn't even realize he had moved until he felt the smooth wall behind his back. He began to pant with fear, trying to make sense of his experience.
He was in a room. He'd just left a hospital bed; in fact, the sheet that had covered him was still settling to the floor. But other than that, it looked to be room in a house, with a desk and leather couch. To his left, large windows showed it was night outside. Besides the one figure he had fled standing by the bed, there were six others. With a shock, he realized they were his own daughter and the Cullens, the family she had married into.
Alice held her hands out, palms down, and tried to speak soothingly. "It's okay, Charlie. You're safe. You're going to be all right."
More shock, more surprise. Although it had only been six months since the Cullens had moved to Vancouver, they were incredibly different. They were them, and somehow they were not them. He stared in surprise. Their skin, even Bella's skin, was flawless, pale and cold, like stone. He swore he could see the rush of pale liquid flowing through the veins beneath their skin. Yet, as Alice moved her hands, impossibly, this marble skin moved with her.
Their eyes were all trained on him. Varying shades of the same golden color, eight sets of alien eyes watched him. They seemed as shocked as he; their motionless was unsettling. He blinked, trying to adjust his vision. He was overwhelmed with detail. He felt like he could count the hairs on Bella's arm or the threads that made up the fabric of Carlisle's shirt. He heard the birds through the window, and they pulled at his attention. There was a TV playing softly in a far corner of the house, but he could hear every word as the announcer called the baseball plays.
His attention sprang back to the Cullens. Again, he felt the shock of looking at them. Something was wrong. Something was terribly, terribly wrong. Bella, his darling Bella, looked cold and pale, and her alien eyes sent shivers racing down his spine. How had they changed so radically in six months?
"We haven't changed," Edward said gently. "You have."
Charlie studied Edward, all the conflicted feelings rising up in him. This was the man who married his daughter, and although he would have liked to have welcomed him as a son, part of him knew that there would never be much common ground other than Bella between them. With trepidation, Charlie moved his gaze to examine his hands. He was naked from the waist up, clad only in a pair of faded jeans and barefoot to boot. He turned his hands over, studying them. They seemed the same and yet they weren't. They were smoother than he remembered, and his summer tan had faded. The two-inch scar on his palm from a hoe Craig Newton had taken to him one time in a drunken fit was gone as well. His arms looked and felt different; they looked like he'd been lifting weights. His gaze slid to his chest, the few gray hairs that had been tangled in the thatch between his nipples were gone, and he'd lost the slight paunch of his belly that had begun to plague him in the last five years. He looked fit, fitter than he had in years. So why was he feeling so strangely?
Bella took a step toward him, and it startled him enough to back further against the wall. "Dad," she whispered soothingly. "Charlie, you're okay. You're safe."
"Wh-where am I?" Even his voice sounded strange, smooth and bell-like, like a movie actor's or a commercial voice-over. But the mere act of speaking made his throat burn. Burning, he remembered.
"You're in our house, here in Forks," Carlisle said. "We brought you back here after you'd…" He shifted uncomfortably. "After you'd hurt yourself."
Hurt himself? It came rushing back to him. The gun. The whiskey. The sadness pressing against his heart, like a hand crushing it, until he'd lost the will or the nerve to keep on going. The gun. The blast that blew him back in his chair, and the feeling that his life was leaking out of his head along with the blood.
He raised a hand to feel the back of his head, but there was no injury there. Nothing but fine hair under his hand. "I shot myself," he said, looking at them for confirmation.
Bella took another step forward. "But we found you in time and we saved you."
"How long have I been out?"
Bella and Carlisle exchanged a glance. "Three days," answered Carlisle.
Three days. Three days to recover completely from a wound that should have landed him in a grave. "Don't lie to me, Carlisle," Charlie cautioned, swallowing against the pain in his throat. He'd just about had it with the Cullens and their 'need to know' attitudes and their secrets. Although why they would lie to him about this, he couldn't even fathom a guess.
"I'm not lying, Charlie," Carlisle said solemnly. "It's October sixth. You've been healed in three days."
"That's not possible."
Esme stepped forward. "It is possible." Her voice was gentle and compassionate. "This is a second chance for you, Charlie."
With his new vision, Charlie could see every detail of the people before him. Some part of him was registering the color of their eyes, noticing the fact that Jasper and Emmett were not breathing, that there was no unnecessary eye blinking from Edward and Bella. He winced a bit at the sight of the suddenly visible scars that crossed Jasper's skin like the lines of a road map. His eyes landed on Esme, even more beautiful than he remembered, her pale skin and leonine eyes enhanced by the caramel color of her hair.
He swallowed hard. "A second chance at what?" he whispered.
"To be with us, Dad," Bella cried, the expression on her face rending at his heart. "I-I couldn't bear losing you. Oh, God, please forgive me…" She stopped, stung by his incomprehension, and turned, burying her face in Edward's chest.
"A chance to build a life with us," Carlisle offered. "It's not the life you knew, but it can be a life all the same."
"Not the life I knew? What then?" he asked, full of fear. Panic was rising in his throat like the mercury in a thermometer. He knew it was going to be bad, whatever they were going to tell him. How bad he couldn't guess.
"A different kind of life. The myths you have lived with, Charlie," Carlisle said. "Like so many legends, there's a kernel of truth in them."
"Of the supernatural."
Charlie looked at the faces surrounding him, uncomprehending. "What…?"
Carlisle looked briefly around the room, then took a step toward the desk against the wall. Incredibly fast, too fast for human movement, his hand flicked out and grabbed the fist-sized geode being used as a paperweight. Faster than a snake striking, he flung it toward Charlie.
Without conscious volition, Charlie's hand snagged it out of the air with the same lightning speed. He stared at the rock in his hand.
"Now squeeze," suggested Carlisle.
Charlie raised the hand holding the geode to eye level. With gentle pressure, the rock began to crumble and pulverize in his hand until just a fine trickle of sand flowed from between his fingers. Charlie's face began to twist in disbelief, in horror. He looked up at the others, wordlessly begging for an explanation. "Carlisle," Jasper whispered. "He's losing it."
Carlisle held his hand out, holding him back. "He's strong. He can take this," he murmured.
Charlie looked wide-eyed at the pile of sand and pebbles on the floor. "What am I?" he whispered, his breath catching in his throat.
From within Edward's arms, Bella cried softly, "You're like us, Charlie. You're just like us."
"A vampire," Esme said softly.
Charlie's face twisted even further. Jasper thought he'd never felt anyone so scared that still could stand on their own feet.
Charlie began to shake his head. "No."
"You know it, Chief Swan," Carlisle said. "You've always known. You suspected it, but never let it rise to the surface of your consciousness. But you've seen all the signs and the…" There was more; Carlisle kept talking in a soothing, reasonable tone of voice, but Charlie wasn't listening anymore.
"No," Charlie said again. "No."
Carlisle stopped then, watching him, suddenly realizing that it was indeed more than Charlie could handle.
"No," Charlie said to the silent room and the watching faces. His expression twisted terribly; Bella hid her face against Edward's shirt again. "No," Charlie said louder, the word ringing in the small space.
Alice took a step closer to him. "It's not what you think. We've really adapted−"
Charlie was sliding along the wall, edging toward the French doors that overlooked the meadow at the back of the house. The Cullens were grouped around the bedroom door; there was no exit there.
As Charlie neared the windows, he caught sight of his reflection in the window. He stared at the stranger in the glass while Alice continued talking, but her words were making no sense to him. He looked fit and lean, his chest and arms more muscular and defined than he ever remembered being. His belly was flat, and the jeans hung loosely off his hips, the dark patch of hair on his chest sliding in a thin trail down his abs into the waistband of his pants. His hair was thick and curly, the slightly thinning hairline above his forehead was thick and rich once more. But his eyes, his eyes were right out of a horror movie, and they were what finally caused him to break out into full panic. With a wild cry, he crashed through the French doors, sending glass flying, and sailing into the dark night. Even unaware of the terrain, he landed lightly on his feet, like a cat, crouching as the glass showered around him. Above him, he heard the cries of "Charlie!"
The feelings of terror and panic took over, spurring him into action, and he began to run, away from the familiar faces in the unfamiliar room, away from the truth and the expectations, of what he couldn't fathom; he only knew it was more than he could bear.
He was running, running straight out, and it was amazing that it was so effortless. He was in shape like he'd never been before; even the high school track team he'd been on had never gotten speed like this from him. In the dark, it seemed like the trees and bushes were flying past. He started running faster through the night forest and realized that the effort was easy, ridiculously easy. He splashed across a stream, and the moonlight glinted off the drops he kicked up.
He heard voices behind him and knew they were coming after him, so he started running faster, faster than he could believe a person could run. The breeze kicked his hair back, and the bushes whipped behind him as he fled through the trees. Looking back over his shoulder, he inadvertently slammed into a tall pine, showering himself with needles. He bounced back off it and onto the ground. Panting heavily, because that's what he expected to do, he watched as a long scrape across his belly and chest wept a small amount of clear liquid before drying up and knitting back together.
He moaned and closed his eyes, hands digging into the ground beside him. Fear and regret bit at him. What had he become? What had been done to him? He rolled to his side and curled into a fetal position.
A handful of minutes had passed when he heard the almost imperceptible footsteps, but it wasn't until the figure was beside him that he caught the faint overtones of a delicate floral perfume. He heard the rustle of skirts as Esme sat down beside him.
She waited with him as he fought his fear and shame, until finally his curiosity got the better of him. Reluctantly he rose to a sitting position, glancing shamefacedly at her.
Esme brushed her hair back from her face and sighed. "I was 26 when I was turned. It was 1921. I'd lost my newborn son to illness. I was on the run from my husband who beat me. I had nothing and so I jumped off the tallest cliff I could find."
Against his will, Charlie found himself intrigued. There was a gentle femininity about Esme that pleased him, and he'd found her less intimating than the other Cullens. She had always been so gracious whenever he'd come to visit Bella. She'd made him feel gentlemanly and courtly; there was a quality about her that made him want to show her his best face. "What happened?" he asked, without raising his head.
"They brought me to the morgue," she said, smiling. "Carlisle found me there, broken, almost dead. We'd had a brief acquaintance when I was much younger, and he recognized some quality in me. He made me a vampire, as you are. As we all are."
The word made Charlie bolt to his feet. "Vampire," he whispered. He whirled on her. "What does that mean?"
Esme climbed to her feet as well. "It means we are strong, and fast and almost impossible to kill or be hurt." She reached out and pulled a chunk out of the large mature tree she was standing next to. It came off in her hand like it had been a piece of cake. She watched as it crumbled to the ground. "You'll be able to do things you never dreamed of."
He needed to know the extent of the bad news. "Will I…kill?" he asked.
"Not necessarily, Charlie. It will be a struggle, but it will be your choice."
He looked at her without comprehension.
"The burning in your throat−it's the thirst." As soon as she said it, he was aware again of the hot, parched dryness in his throat. He swallowed with effort. She continued, "We−the Cullens−live without killing humans. We stick to a strictly animal diet. But we are an anomaly."
"And Bella is…?"
"Yes, she's also a vampire. She was changed soon after she married. It had to be done, she was dying."
"The tropical illness?"
"No." Esme chuckled. "It was the birth of your granddaughter, Renesmee."
Charlie looked down. A small smile crossed his face. "I never believed the tropical illness, anyway."
Esme smiled back. "I'm not surprised. It was a pretty lame excuse, but it was the best we could do at the time."
"Where is Renesmee?" he asked, thinking he hadn't seen her.
"Rosalie took her to her aunts in Alaska. It would be best if some time elapsed before you saw her."
He looked at Esme, questioning.
"She's half-human," she said gently. "Her scent might prove…tempting."
Charlie's face twisted in horror. "My own granddaughter? I'd be tempted to-?"
Esme stepped up to him, placed a hand on his arm. "You have a new existence, now. While time stretches endlessly before you, discipline is required to build a life worth having. We'll help you build that discipline but it won't be easy." She looked away briefly. "Believe me, I know."
Charlie struggled with the conflicting feelings inside him. "Do we turn into bats?"
Esme laughed, a beautiful sound that echoed in the dark forest. It matched the dappling of the forest floor by the moonlight. "Oh, gosh, no."
"Well, I didn't know." He shrugged. "I mean, after what Jacob showed me…"
"Yes, I imagine that was a bit of a surprise."
He rubbed his face, a bit surprised by how smooth it felt. "You have no idea."
They stood in silence for a few moments. "We should get back to the house, Charlie. They'll be worried."
He stared at the ground in front of him, trying to put a finger on his reluctance to face the others. "I feel ashamed," he whispered.
"Because of how we found you?" she asked gently.
He nodded, keeping his eyes on the ground. "I never thought I would be stupid enough to do something so…"
"Rash? Because you felt trapped and cornered and desperate?" She laid a gentle hand on his arm. "I know how that feels," she murmured. "No one will think the less of you, Charlie, because life beat you up."
His gaze stayed on the ground. Moments passed. "Did you know Sue passed away?"
"Yes, I'd heard." She stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him, hugging him. He stood still in her embrace; physical affection was always uncomfortable for him. "I'm so sorry," Esme whispered, her cheek pressed against his chest.
"I…" he started but then stopped. Sue's death still felt like a huge broken rock in his chest, all sharp edges and dead weight. Slowly, his arms rose around Esme. The feeling of being held in comfort, in shared sorrow, was so soothing, it cut through his usual discomfort. It eased the tight bands he'd felt constricting his chest, like shackles around his heart. He held her a little tighter. "I miss her every day."
"I'm sure you do," Esme whispered, her hands rubbing in small movements on his back.
They hugged in silence for a few moments, the night forest making the only sounds around them. Charlie broke from their embrace first, taking a step backwards.
He sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. "So you're over a hundred years old?"
She nodded, smiling.
"You've held up pretty well," he said, grinning at his understatement.
"Thank you," she acknowledged with a nod. "Immortality has its perks."
"Immortality?" His eyes were shadowed again.
"You will never grow old, never be ill, never suffer from hurt or disease."
He shook his head. "It's unnatural." Fear was whipping him again.
"No, Charlie," she said, pressing a hand to his face. "It's supernatural, and that makes all the difference."
His eyes searched hers, seeing only compassion and caring and the splendor of a fulfilled soul. Looking at Esme, Charlie felt a pang of hope, something that had become foreign to him. He was afraid of it, and in a way it almost hurt, the way a hand exposed too long to the cold will hurt as it starts to warm up and regain sensation. Still, he wanted it, wanted desperately to believe in it. He felt like he was watching the glimmer of light announcing a sunrise, the start of a beginning that could be that start of a new life.
She recognized the change in his expression and, linking her arm through his, started back in the direction of home. "You must have a hundred questions."
"Well, that's understating it by a factor of thousands."
Her laughter was lovely, he thought. "So I was running really fast…?" he asked.
"Speed. That's one of the gifts," she confirmed as they continued walking. "Endurance, strength, enhanced senses."
"It's night time, Charlie. But are you having trouble seeing?"
"No," he said in wonder.
"Breathe. Breathe deep. What do you smell?"
"The forest, the trees. Wait, there's something…" He sniffed, trying to identify an intriguing scent. It set his throat burning again, and he wrapped a hand around his neck, as if he could extinguish the fire from the outside.
"Deer," she said. "Would you like to hunt?"
"Hunt?" he asked. "My gun is back at the…" He trailed off at the smile spreading across her face.
"Oh, Charlie," she said, grinning widely and taking him by the hand. "Let me show you how it's really done."
Thatta girl, Esme, you show him!
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