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.
6. Chapter 6 Coming Out Of The Woods
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It was her favorite time of the year, when fall was just starting to get a grip on the land. The last of the flowers were dropping their seed heads and animals were fattening up in preparation for the winter. Here in the northern woods, fall came early; already the bite in the air was persuading the maples and oaks to put on their fiery fall colors.
Off and on over the last six months or so, Tanya had been wandering these forests. They'd found Charlie's abandoned jeep back in June, but his scent trail had long been washed away by that point, so she returned to the area whenever she had a few weeks she could spare for the search. She'd been flabbergasted when Carlisle told her what had happened. She'd thought Carlisle would have had better judgment by now. She suspected it was Edward's newborn bride that had goaded the family toward such rash action. There was a price to be paid; there was always a price to be paid for the violation of nature.
Eleazar had teased her as she'd made the preparations for this last trip. "You're sure you can stand to be away?"
She'd stopped and turned from packing the rucksack she was stuffing. "What reasons would I have for staying?" she'd asked, perplexed.
Eleazar had smiled slyly, ticking names off on his fingers. "Francois, Victor, Jeffrey, Lucas…"
Tanya had chuckled, shouldering the rucksack. "They can get along without me for a little while. Besides, Kate can always pinch hit for me, if necessary."
"Yes, but what about you?" he'd asked. Eleazar found her procession of human lovers humorous. He'd joked that she'd slept with more humans than she'd eaten. He was probably right.
"I still have fingers," she'd said, grinning and wiggling them as she pushed past him toward the door.
Kate had come out to the driveway to say goodbye to her as she'd tossed her bag into the Quattro. "It's nice of you to do this."
Tanya had shrugged. "A walk in the woods? I'd do a lot more if Carlisle asked me."
"What do you think happened?" Kate had asked, closing the car door once Tanya had climbed into the driver's seat.
"I don't know," she'd said, gripping the steering wheel. "I imagine Chief Swan thought immortality wasn't an easy future to face."
"Are you sure he's still out there? Maybe he's fled to Europe or Asia."
Tanya had shaken her head. "No, I don't think so. Not him." Her memories of Charlie at Edward and Bella's wedding had been very clear. She'd watched him carefully throughout that day, intrigued by the father-daughter dynamic that had him unwittingly give his daughter away to a vampire.
The man was buttoned up tighter than a church minister. Perennial bachelor, comfortable really only in the company of men, afraid of emotion. She'd seen the type again and again, but where most men swaggered and blustered, there was a disarming vulnerability to him, a childlike shyness. So she'd agreed to help the Cullens with the search, curious to see what kind of immortal Charlie Swan would become.
That was why she was now in northwestern Canada, walking in a stand of white birches as the late afternoon sun filtered through the golden leaves, setting the dust specks dancing. The soil was loamy and springy under her feet, and each step caused a burst of a rich, woodsy fragrance. She was almost ready to turn back when she became aware she was in a 'dead spot' in the woods. There was no birdsong nearby, no trace of the habitual forest paths that deer, wolves, and even mice left behind. There must have been a reason that creatures were avoiding the area; usually, that meant a predator. She could tell a bear had shambled through here some time ago, but there were no recent scents. On a hunch, she started following the curve of the landscape to a dell that was filled with leaves and fallen branches.
There it was, very faint under the deep forest scents, the vanilla-like aroma of a vampire. She took another few steps into the piled leaves when her foot connected with something hard underneath. She brushed the forest debris back until she uncovered a patch of black material that must have been a coat. She reached through the leaves huddled around the body and by the arm, rolled the body until he was face-up.
"Oh, Charlie," she whispered in pity. He was emaciated, the circles around his closed eyes dark and pronounced. His skin was chalky white, and the hollows around his temples and his cheeks were sunken with dehydration. He was unconscious, having starved himself into a comatose state.
She sighed, running a finger down his cheek and brushing a leaf from his hair. Not every human could make the leap into becoming a supernatural creature and a predator. Some were too stubborn in their worldview to accept a different version of reality than the one they had grown accustomed to, and some were too moral and unforgiving of their own newborn behavior.
She'd seen vampires go to ground before, for a variety of reasons. Unable to take the final step of self-immolation, they disappeared under the earth, sometimes for centuries. Even Carlisle had spent some time in this comatose state, before he'd awakened to the possibility of finding himself a new path, one virtually unheard of for an immortal predator.
But Charlie had family wondering where he was and worrying about him. She snaked an arm behind his shoulders and one beneath his knees, bringing him to her chest. His head lolled back and his arm dangled as she lifted him easily in her arms. Gently, she carried him out of the woods.
From the road, she called Carlisle. "I've got him."
"West of Hudson's Hope," she answered. "He's starved, but he's okay."
She glanced at the back seat where Charlie was laid out. "No, he's not conscious."
"I don't know, what do you think should be done?"
"Hmm. I agree."
"I'm happy to take care of him for a while, but I can't guarantee what state he'll wake up in."
"I think you overestimate me, Carlisle."
"Alright. I'll take him up to Kobuk Valley. Kate or Carmen will know how to get a hold of me."
"No, I haven't heard anything either. They haven't been seen outside Volterra for some months now."
"Ha! We should be that lucky."
"All right, then. Give my love to the family."
She snapped the satellite phone shut and glanced once more at the unmoving body in the back. "I've got you, Charlie," she whispered. "I've got you."
Three days later, she and Eleazar were in the cockpit of his bush plane that was outfitted with pontoons, touching down in Catslick Lake. They cruised gently to the shore and secured the plane near the beach. The cabin that Tanya maintained up here was so remote, the only way in for most people was by plane, or during winter by snow machine. With the first onslaught of winter due any time now, there would be no random human hikers wandering by. On the other hand, the Kobuk Valley was renowned for its caribou herd. Tanya liked caribou. They reminded her of her beginnings.
"You'll call us weekly, yes?" Eleazar asked as they started ferrying provisions to the shore. Not far from the edge of the lake, a small cabin sat nestled among the trees. This part of Kobuk Valley straddled the forest/tundra line.
"Of course," Tanya said. "Don't worry, for heaven's sake. God only knows how I've made it all these millennia without you watching me."
Eleazar put the box he was carrying on the shore and turned around to face her. "I can't help worrying. He's a newborn. What if he wakes up insane with hunger? He'll be so much stronger than you."
She headed back towards the plane for another armful. "Only a man would think strength is the best defense."
He stared at her back, frowning. "Only a woman would think otherwise."."
That made her laugh. "Really, I'll be fine."
"I won't be able to come again until the lake has had a hard freeze. I can't land in slush."
"I won't ask you to," she said, smiling and wondering when Eleazar had become so protective. Granted he was the only man in their family, but she was more than four times old as him.
Instead, she decided to take his concern, not as doubt of her capabilities, but as a show of concern for her. She walked up to him as he was putting the last chest of items on the beach and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Thank you," she said softly.
He took it gracefully, but still frowned. "I hope you'll still be thanking me come New Year's."
Tanya walked around to the side of the plane, disappearing inside and re-emerging a moment later with Charlie in her arms. She jumped from the plane's open door to the shore, landing as neatly as a cat. Eleazar followed her to the cabin, throwing open the door for her. "You are entirely too stubborn. You know that, don't you?"
It was a small one room cabin, with a woodstove in the corner and a fireplace. It held an unmade double bed, a desk and two chairs, and a rudimentary kitchen. There was a bearskin in front of the fireplace, and a braided rug over by the bed. It showed signs of disuse; there were abandoned spider webs in the corners, and rodent droppings along the floor.
"Smells like breathers," Eleazar said, wrinkling his nose and using the Volturi nickname for humans.
"I'm sure," Tanya said, laying Charlie down in the unmade mattress. Charlie was completely unresponsive. "I told Victor he could borrow it for the August caribou migration."
That would have been a handful of weeks ago and would explain why there had been rodents. Where humans went, so did their food, which inevitably attracted the lesser vermin.
"Do you want some help cleaning?" Eleazar offered unenthusiastically, fervently hoping she would decline.
Tanya almost laughed out loud at the look of perplexed disgust on his face. "No, it will give me something to do."
"So, exactly why is this a good idea?" Eleazar asked in a last ditch attempt to understand the logic that had brought them out here.
Tanya sighed. "Plenty of game, no humans, no vampires," she said, arching her eyebrows. "Charlie needs to build some trust in himself, in who he is now. He doesn't strike me as the kind of man that appreciates an audience while he does that." She gazed down at Charlie's unmoving face on the bed. "His physical healing will be easy. It's the mental healing that will be touchy."
Eleazar said nothing and shuffled his feet slightly.
"A storm is coming," Tanya said without turning around. "Perhaps you should go"
"Alright then." He came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders. He kissed her cheek. "You'll call every week."
"It's a promise," she said. Together they walked out to the plane.
She waved good-bye as he taxied the plane across the water before gaining speed and climbing into the sky.
The first thing she did was sweep out the cottage, including the nests of mice she found. Next, she started a fire in the fireplace. It was not that the warmth was necessary, or even the light, but it was a ritual she practiced every evening when the opportunity afforded itself. From the start of her existence, a fire in the hearth always meant warmth and comfort and security.
She brought in the rest of the supplies just as it began to hail, and she polished and dusted the few surfaces of the cottage. She made the bed around Charlie's unmoving form, using a quilt she'd made herself almost two hundred years ago. During a dry spell in the intermittent precipitation, she went scouting and almost immediately came across a Dall's sheep.
She fed Charlie, bringing the paralyzed sheep inside into the cabin. Gently, she parted his lips with her tongue and let the warm liquid dribble from her lips to his. Pulling back, she watched his Adam's apple move as he swallowed reflexively. It was almost like kissing him; the mustache tickled her lips. She preferred her men clean-shaven, but she thought the mustache suited him. She got most of a pint into him that way, before she finished draining the sheep herself. She brought the carcass outside and tossed it against the side of the house. With any luck, it would bring bears or wolves that were unfamiliar with vampire scent and make hunting that much easier for her. Take out or delivery, she mused to herself, smiling.
She read for a few hours, stirring the fire occasionally. She undressed Charlie and placed him between the blankets, and then lay down on top of the covers next to him. She stayed there until dawn. The circadian clock was a powerful thing for humans, and she'd seen new vampires who still needed the division of night and day to anchor them.
The next day, the first of the winter cold and snow came. She was grateful for the cold; it froze up the slushy tundra and made traveling through the lowlands that much easier. Occasionally, she would travel along the river to the great northern sand dunes to watch the sun rise.
Her days began to settle into a routine. She went hunting during the day, and often spent time racing across the fields with the caribou herd for the sheer joy of running. Each night she would come in, feed the fire and lay down next to Charlie, letting her presence and scent register in the processes that were still going on underneath his silent exterior.
It was December when she saw a flicker of consciousness. She'd brought in a bucket of snow to melt and had undressed in front of the fire to bathe. Standing on a towel, she ran the sponge over her body, washing away the inevitable dirt and dust. She glanced over at the bed and Charlie's eyes were open. She stopped, sponge in hand, not sure if he was awake or if it was a twitch. His eyes slowly closed, and there was nothing more. She went back to her sponge bath, thinking. That night when she slipped into bed next to him, she did so unclothed.
The next day, she had brought in a caribou and was feeding him, when she felt his lips move beneath hers. She had paused for a moment and when she leaned back over him, to touch her lips to his, she felt the small movement. It was just a slight puckering of the lips, soft and indescribably tender. She pulled back in surprise, but the movement had been fleeting and he was still again. He was looking better, she thought. The regular feedings, if small, were steadily making a difference. He was losing the ashiness in his complexion, and the dark circles under his eyes were lightening.
Another week went by. Several times she came in from hunting and noticed minor things, a change in the position of his hand or a shift in the feet under the blanket. She continued to spend the nights next to him unclothed in bed, hoping to awaken his masculinity and therefore, the rest of him.
It was the winter solstice and Tanya had brought fresh evergreens into the cabin. Their wonderful fresh-cut pine smell filled the small room and granted the bare mantle a measure of gaiety. She brought a bucket of water warmed by the fire over to the bed so that she might give Charlie's still form a sponge bath.
She dragged the covers down to his waist, and wringing out the cloth, dabbed at his face, across his closed eyes. She swiped across each cheek and across his mustache, then down under his neck, sweeping across his strong jaw. Dipping the cloth in the bucket again, she wiped it across his shoulders and into the hollows caused by his collarbones. She hummed an archaic Kolyadkas as she worked, her cloth sliding across the masculine broad shoulders and scattering of hair across his chest. On his left shoulder, there was a faded blue tattoo of an eagle descending, its talons outstretched. Down each arm her cloth traveled, then across the fine hairs that swirled around his forearms to the strong hands with their blunt fingertips. She picked up each hand and gently wiped the palms before setting it back on the sheet.
She worked with the clinical detachment of a professional nurse, but she was in tune with herself enough to know that she was enjoying this gentle exploration of his body. He was a well-built man, and there was plenty to admire. Still, she hoped for his awakening soon. The solitude of this lifestyle was not onerous to her-she'd often lived alone for decades-but his mind needed healing as much as his body had, and he would make no progress until he began to rise.
Pushing the sheet to his feet, gradually she worked down his body, along each of his long thighs to the calves and feet. She swiped around his sex once before rolling his body to the side so that she could have access to his back and buttocks. Traveling down the long muscles of his back, she gently finished her task. When she was done she rolled him back to his prone position and saw his sex had hardened.
Smiling to herself, she thought, Unconscious, perhaps, but not dead.
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