A/N: Bet you guys thought you'd never see me again...hah... :S
The sun was an hour away from rising when Bell and I parted. I closed my eyes and breathed in the morning air deeply, my insides tingling from the chill. I felt the chill and remembered all that had happened here. In that moment, everything was beautiful, but perhaps that's only because it was fleeting. I clung to the memories. I climbed up the steps. I went home, for the last time.
I sat on the bed across from Jenna, my eyes staring straight into hers.
"Please," I said softly, unflinching.
"No," Jenna snapped, sneering. "I won't hurt him like that. I won't. He's been through enough—"
"Enough lies?" I interjected, pointedly. "Enough betrayal? Tell me, Jenna, do you think you can keep this a secret forever? That he won't put the pieces together? And who will he hate then? Me? He will always hate me, no matter who he hears it from. I'm the child of a vampire. I'll mean nothing to him. He will be hurt and alone, because they only people he could turn to for comfort are the people who alienated him."
She was silent for a long moment. "Why me? Why not my dad?"
"Your dad…," I murmured, trying to use the best words. "He's… too…"
"Good," Jenna finished for me bitterly.
I nodded. "You're strong, Jenna. Really strong. Doing this is going to hurt you as much as it will hurt your brother, but you have to trust me about it, okay? What I'm going to do… it'll change everything."
Her green eyes flashed to me. "You promise?"
"'Cause I swear to God," she drawled, getting off the bed. "If pumpkin spice lattes aren't a year 'round thing after this, I'm going to find you and tear your human head off your vampire body."
The smile on my face was bitter and sad. She looked away, arms crossed. We both knew I would be dust in the wind after this. And for all her might, she would never get more than a handful of ashy rumors about me. We weren't really friends, but we shared respect for the other.
I remembered back to when I first met her. I would've called that look one of haughty contempt, but now I knew. Jenna was smart. Jenna was practical. She knew what had to be done for the best, and she was willing to make the sacrifice. She hated herself for being so logical. She hated me for using it against her. But what surprised me the most was the trust in her eyes. I was about to tear her family apart, and she still believed in me.
"There's a plan, Jenna. Your family will play a huge part in it."
She said nothing for a little while, and when her voice came, it was sharp. "Does my dad know you're leaving?"
I was silent.
Her eyes were like shards of glass. "Hurting my brother is one thing, but my dad doesn't deserve a creek on the staircase as a goodbye. You'll tell him."
I swallowed. I nodded.
"What if…," her voice was thick, "you can't get away?"
"I will," I said, resolutely. "I have to."
"I don't like this."
"Thank you, Jenna," I said, looking at her with every benevolent emotion I could muster. "I promise, this is worth it. It's worth everything."
Her eyes flashed again. I'd said too much. I stood, swallowing my emotion. "Take care of Sheena for me."
And I was gone.
I woke an hour before the sun. Everything I needed was set in the corner of my closet. I dressed and pulled on my pack, breathing deeply and looked around my room for the last time. So much for home.
I was standing in his doorway of his study for less than a minute before he spoke. Luke didn't look up from his desk, he just said, "You're not an actual vampire, you know. You do need sleep—" He saw my backpack. He saw my eyes. He stood. He knew. His face wasn't sad, but I suppose he thought he could talk me out of running this time, too. Luke was across the room in a second, standing right in front of me.
"Please," he murmured, wide eyes staring into me. That was it. One word. One word and my throat was thick and my eyes burned and my lips trembled.
"I'm sorry," I whispered, forcing myself to keep eye contact. "Not this time, Luke."
He threw him arms around me. He was as warm as his words. "Why?" he asked, voice strained. "You don't need to leave, Charlotte—"
"This time, I do. I'm not running away anymore, Luke," I told him. "I'm running towards something. Something that will change everything. You'll know soon, but I can't tell you now." I pulled out an envelope. "It's all in—"
"A letter," he scoffed. "Charlotte, whatever it is… tell me. I can help. I can—"
"No," I ground out, pulling away from him and meeting his eyes. Such kind eyes. I once thought I'd never understand them, but now I do. Just a little. "I'm not alone, Luke. Not this time. And this time, it's not you I need. Please, just…" I hugged him closer. "Just let me go. I promise I won't lose myself. You put me back together, Luke. I'm not pieces anymore. I'm whole. I'm a whole person, and I need to do this. Without you. I can stand on my own. You taught me how."
He was silent for a long time, holding me tight. So long, that just a moment more, and I would've stayed. I would've forgotten what I needed to do, and fucked the world because hurting Luke was hurting myself and his warmth was burning the heart out of me. But, he trusted me. Cold air bit where his arms used to be. I glanced up—just a glance, because I knew I couldn't take much more. He couldn't hear the footsteps. The running. Jenna yelling. I did. I knew. It was time. I threw my arms around him one, last time. I slipped the letter into his jacket.
His hand brushed my hair. "Goodbye, Charlotte."
"Goodbye, Luke," I murmured. "I'm sorry it has to be like this."
I dreaded the next part. I hated myself for it.
I threw him to the ground, out into the hall. He toppled over himself, confused, blundering to ask me why. I stepped out of the study. Out of safety. At the end of the hall, David froze. His chest heaving, his eyes wild, flashing towards his father, on the floor by my feet.
"Bitch!" David screamed, barreling towards me.
I ran. The backpack slowed me, and David's fury pushed him. I made it to the end of the hall, to that big, window wall, before I let David throw himself at me. He must've thought I would pivot. That I would try to direct the attack to the floor. I normally would have. But this time, I didn't. We crashed through the window. David didn't miss a beat; he pulled a knife. Not that it mattered. I landed on the frozen hydrangeas, him on top of me. The wind was knocked clean from my lungs, and my back screamed from landing on my pack. Not a second later, David's knife flashed in my vision. I rolled, and it landed in my arm instead of my face. I kicked him away from me, throwing off my backpack as he hit the siding.
"Fuck!" Jenna's voice from the second floor. "David, stop!"
"David!" I heard Luke roaring. "Charlotte!"
"David," I panted, yanking the knife from my arm. "You don't understand."
"You bitch!" he bellowed, tackling me into the ground.
"I'm not one of them!" I yelled, getting the upper hand and pinning him underneath me. One of his arms beneath my knee, the other held in place by my hands. I leaned in close. He was trembling, his face red, his veins popping out. My nose brushed his cheek. Reminding. Taunting. "Or am I?"
"Fuck you!" His hand shot to my hair, yanking it violently so I was thrown off him. Then, I was under him. His fists pounded into my face, before he remembered my throat. The bandage over it reminded him. His fingers dug under the gauze. Into the wound. I cried out, fingers clutching against his, trying to peel them away.
"I don't know what you are," he hissed, leaning into me. "But all I need to know is you can bleed, bitch."
I had prepared for his anger, but I hadn't intended for this. For his coherent thought. It was supposed to be a blind rage, not calculated revenge. I wasn't strong enough to fight back, but I knew Michael was watching. Waiting. David's thumb pressed my stitches open. Blood warmed my neck. Suffocation burned my throat.
David was thrown off me. I gasped, hands clutching my neck. David had always been a better fighter than Jenna. I'd barely gotten to my feet, and she had already lost their fight, struggling to stand. David was moving towards me. His was the face of fury.
I feigned left. He didn't fall for it. His fist hit my neck. I choked. The other hit my stomach. I fell. He knelt beside me. My fingers wound around a rock by my knee. His fingers wrapped around my throat and squeezed. But I'd expected cruelty this time. I head butted him. I smashed the rock into his temple. This time, it was David who fell. He didn't move again.
I looked to Jenna, stumbling over herself on her knees.
"Run!" she choked, hand outstretched. "Go! Charlotte!"
"I'm sorry," I whispered, "for all of it."
"Go!" she bellowed.
I made it to the clearing. That damned clearing. Blood rolled down my arm from the knife wound. Weeped out my neck like tears. Matted my hair. Congealed in my clothes. He knew I was here. I just had to get him to come out.
"Well, this is what you want, isn't it?" I screamed, tears in my eyes, blood on my face. "I'm alone! Completely alone! There's nothing for me! Just me, so come get it! End it, just like you started it! Bastard!"
Fog rolled across the field. Crept over the grass and through the trees. Branches stopped clacking and the birds stopped singing. The wind stilled and life stopped. It was all gray and black and blue, and from across the night, I saw him come. He grew from the dark, from a shadow, to a shape, to a man. He stopped ten meters away.
"Quite the show."
"Not like it was a plot twist," I spat, eyes blurring. "Don't you want a finale?"
"Where's your sister?" he asked, voice calm. Casual. Like we were friends.
"Probably fucking one of your home boys, Mike," I hissed. "Isn't that her job? Your bitch?"
Michael shrugged. "Not in so many words."
"Fuck Annabell. Fuck David. Fuck you."
"Such language for a young lady."
"Your sister was never one for foreplay, either."
He lunged. I dodged. His fingers caught my hair, and I was torn backwards, but my balance wasn't lost. I swept a leg under his, but only managed to knock out one. It set him off just a little, and I managed to knock him in the stomach. He didn't even feel it. His hand wound around my hair, and Michael used it like a whip to throw me to the ground. It was a hard fall, surprisingly. I rolled a few feet, my legs tumbling over my body.
Then his hand was on my throat, my head. Cold fear clenched my stomach. Oh, god. It was happening. He was going to do it. Oh, god. I couldn't. I can't.
"No!" I screamed, throwing my head back and slamming it into his nose. Michael reared backwards, and I lunged for him, slamming my hand into his throat. I went for a second hit, but his hand caught mine. He twisted it around my back, shoving it upwards until it popped. My scream ripped through the night. He pushed me forward, and I stumbled. Michael grabbed my other arm, pulled me back, and used the same move to dislocate it. I choked. He landed a kick straight into my knee. It cracked. I fell.
He was on top of me.
"Easy," he breathed. "Too easy."
I aimed a kick with my good leg. He caught it, flipped me over, and broke my leg over his knee. My body lay in the mud, barely breathing. Please, I thought. Just do it. Do it now. End it.
His fingers brushed the hair by my neck.
I could feel his breath on my throat. Teeth on my skin. I closed my eyes.
His teeth sank into my throat. Blood covered my neck.
It was too familiar of a sensation.
He kept biting. Deep.
He twisted his head, tearing my skin free from my body. I screamed-choked on my blood—it bubbled in my throat—hurt—I couldn't think—
"Mm," Michael chirped jovially. "I'm not really all that hungry."
"But, I suppose your sister is waiting for that, isn't she?" he murmured, words brushing my neck. "So I'll just wait here. Let you bleed. Wait until she thinks I've had my fill."
I tried to breathe, tears burning my eyes. The adrenaline diluted the pain, but not by much. I could feel my body trying to repair itself.
Michael laughed. "I knew it. It was too easy. Too convenient. I hope your boyfriend doesn't take it to heart, that you chose me over him. But, then again, women like older men."
"Why?" I choked, body on fire.
Michael's voice was dark and sharp, "It's not you I want, you little bitch. I could've had you anytime. Florida. Montana. California. New York. I never lost sight of you." Ice ran through my veins. "Annabell… she never left my side," he purred. My stomach curled. My legs stopped hurting. "But she was never in my control. She knew it. I knew it. I could touch her body, and but never her mind. So, I watched. I saw her when she saw you, that first time. A chance run in. Fate was there, that time. But just that one. I left you the clues. The money. The paper trail. Me. After that first time, I was your fate."
"Why not just take me?" I whispered. "Kill me? Why wait?"
"She didn't love you," he hummed. "Sometimes, she barely remembered you. You were a shadow. A memory. And her memories were nothing but anger and fear and hate. So, I waited until you were more. A shadow, a ghost, a person, and finally a sister. The evolution into her heart. And I waited until she loved you. Until you weeded a door into her psyche, and made her forget to lock it."
My eyes slid shut.
Michael chuckled. "Don't worry, sweetling. You were a little fun, too. Not much. A nice hobby. Pity. I won't have a good game like the Fusch family for at least another century and a half… oh, look. She's coming. As I thought."
Michael dug his fingers into the wound he'd made. Something pierced my neck. My scream didn't make it out. It hurt. Too much. Too deep. I didn't want to feel anymore. He jerked the blade a little to the side, careful to open nothing but my trachea. My fingers scrambled for my throat, but my arms wouldn't move. My tears dripped into the mud. Air escaped my throat before they could make it into words.
I couldn't move. I couldn't speak. My eyes strained to see her, to warn her. She was human, and he was not. My blood was on his lips, not in his body. She would die.
"Annabell," I heard Michael greet, standing. "So good of you to make it. I'm afraid you missed dinner, though."
Annabell said nothing. My eyes strained to make out her shape in through the blur. I saw nothing but tears.
"Oh, I get it," he crooned. "Here on business, right? Apologies. Let's get started, then."
I couldn't see anything. I couldn't move. My body was still weak from the vampire three days ago. I didn't have enough of me in me. Too much human. Too little vampire. My throat was still bleeding.
I heard flesh hit flesh. A bone snap. Annabell grunt.
"My, my," Michael gushed. "Human? However did you manage that?"
She stood again. She waited for him to charge. He didn't.
"Truly..," he murmured. "I thought it was impossible. Did a human have to bite you? How ironic that would be."
I heard her try to land an attack while he processed her sudden species change. My eyes slammed shut. She was going to be killed. There was nothing I could do. He knew something was wrong in my blood. He knew. Where was my bag?
"Tell me, was it your plan for me to drain your sister dry? Because, in all honesty, I just wasn't feeling all too appetizer by her demeanor. All hot and bothered. I really just broke a few bones. Had some enlightening pillow talk."
"Charlotte?" her voice came, panicked.
He didn't want me. He wanted her. There. Five feet away lay my backpack. Three feet from that, I saw a gun. I had to distract him, so she could get away.
Michael made his move then. I heard her cry out and splash into the mud. Another thud. Another. He was kicking her. I had to help—I had to do something. I couldn't brace either arm on anything to pop it back in, but my left leg was better. My body wouldn't heal as quickly as I needed it to. Hours, at least, any by that time, I'd want to be dead.
I pushed myself forward with my best leg. I dug it into the mud, trying as hard as I could to move without losing my footing. The less noise I made, the better. I pushed myself upward, my breaths short and sharp. I swung my ponytail into my mouth for something to bite down onto. Slowly, I maneuvered my arm until it was perpendicular to my body. I bit down hard on my hair, tasting all the blood and dirt in it. Turning it so it was facing away from me, I rotated it up, moving it from the shoulder joint. I could hear Bell choking on the screams she wouldn't let out. I raised my arm above my head, and felt my arm slip back into my shoulder joint.
Michael wasn't paying me any attention, but I knew that didn't mean he'd forgotten about me. I was the key to destroying my sister. He just wanted to prevent retaliation from her while he killed me. I struggled over to my bag, squeezing my eyes tight every time I heard my sister grunt. But every grunt meant he wasn't looking at me, and that was good.
I kept moving once I reached my bag. Pulling out a knife as I passed, and throwing myself into the mud to reach for the gun. I had twelve bullets. Quick as I could, I flicked the safety off and fired at Michael.
The force rocked him, but he caught himself, wiping the dribble of blood from his temple. I'd only nicked him, but the woods quaked at the sound. His eyes turned to me.
"You'll get your turn, girl," he spat, turning back to where Bell lie bleeding in the mud.
I fired again, this time at his chest, so I wouldn't miss.
Michael turned to me again. "This is quite fitting, really. All I want is Annabell, yet Charlotte just won't give up."
Pop, pop, pop. I fired into whatever body part of his I could. It didn't hurt him, I knew that. Pop. But it sure had to be annoying as hell. Pop. I saw his hand stretch, trying not to clench. "Have it your way then."
He appeared next to me, fingers wrapped around my wrist like a vice. Annabell cried out, but I didn't look at her. Michael and I watched each other, eyes in a deadlock. His grip tightened with every second, his eyes burning into me. I kept pulling the trigger.
Pop. Pop. Pop.
"Would you stop that?" Michael hissed, suddenly crushing my wrist in his hand. I grunted, hand dropping the gun into the mud. He threw me into the ground next to it, swiping the gun from the ground in the same motion. "You're calling those stupid humans, aren't you? You ruin all my plans, you know? It's annoying."
"Are you watching, Annabell?" He stood tall, turning towards my sister, but not taking a step. He pointed the gun at me, eyes fixed on my bleeding sister. "I would like you to see this."
Hot, hot, hot. Burning in my calf. Jesus, it burned. My throat wound pulsed as I held in my scream. I couldn't feel the bullet, just its heat, pulsing through me.
It was in my thigh. Burning bone.
"You want me!" Annabell screamed. "Just take me!"
Michael laughed. "You're not in any position to bargain, Annabell."
"She might not be," Jenna snapped from the edge of the trees.
"But we are," Luke finished, on the other end of the clearing.
Michael rolled his eyes. "The humans are here. Fantastic."
Luke took a step into the clearing, pulling out a gun. Jenna did the same.
"Oh, no," Michael cried. "More guns. Whatever will I do."
"They're not for you," Jenna snorted. In an instant, she aimed her gun and fired. Across the clearing, my sister choked the bullet hit her leg. Michael barely reacted before Luke raised his gun.
"You can kill one of us," he told Michael, "but you're not fast enough for us both. You make a move, and Annabell dies. Painlessly, and not by your hand."
Michael didn't like to lose. My fingers wrapped around my knife.
"Oh, I don't want to kill Annabell," Michael replied, smiling. "I want her to kill herself, while I watch."
He aimed the gun at my head and fired.