Wednesday, January 16, 2013 | By: Jenny

Haunted Angel Chapter 36

Chapter 36
BELLA
The glow of my laptop screen illuminated the back deck as I opened it up. I glanced up to watch Jasper pace back and forth in the backyard as he spoke quickly, firmly, and decisively to Jenks. I rolled my eyes because Jenks was absolutely terrified of my brother. And for good reasons, I would assume, but still... Jasper loved to exploit it.
My eyes drifted to the library windows, where I could see Edward, Carlisle, and Archie in a deep conversation. Archie was – without a single doubt – completely wrecked. Caroline had been gone for less than an hour, and poor Archie had barely uttered two words once we'd gotten him inside and the door had shut closed.
He was – I was happy to note – checking his phone every fifteen seconds. Although, I worried that he hadn't heard back from Caroline since she'd pulled out of our driveway.
My thoughts and feelings were shielded, simply because every time I looked at Archie and saw his pain and heartbreak, I wanted to fall into Edward's arms. I wanted to apologize for the anguish we'd endured all those years ago when I'd believed the lies he'd told me. I should've seen them for what they truly had been – fears and insecurities. However, I knew my apologies would fall upon deaf ears. We no longer felt them necessary when they'd been said a million times over the last several years. I couldn't help but imagine just how shattered my Edward had been, even though these were completely different circumstances.
A strong, scarred arm reached over my shoulder, punching a few keys on the laptop, only to bring up a strange map. There was a blinking red dot that seemed to be at a standstill just inside the Caribou city limits.
"You're tracking her phone?" I asked Jasper as he grinned and sat down beside me.
"Caroline gave me permission. Anything to ease Archie, she told me." He chuckled, but it died quickly when we studied the screen. "They're still in town. Alice says they decided to eat dinner before traveling as far as they could tonight."
I nodded because it made sense. Staring at the blinking red dot, I willed it to come back, but I knew it wouldn't happen. I also wished Archie would hear from her – a text, a call, anything.
"He took her phone away," Alice said softly, sitting down on my other side. "He made the decision as he was pumping gas that they needed to talk without interruption."
Frowning, I glared out into the darkness that covered the backyard. "He treats her like she's still seven. He's going to lose his mind when she goes off to school."
"She won't make it to Portland," Alice reminded me, and I looked over at her. "College doesn't come for...a long time. And when it does, she's with us."
My eyes drifted back to the library windows, and I flinched when Archie's growl met my ears. It took both Carlisle and Edward to keep him from smashing his phone in frustration. Edward glanced up, first looking to Alice and then to me. I smiled when he told Archie that Caroline wasn't ignoring his text, that she didn't have it on her. He edited out the part that Tim had taken it away, which was for the best, I was sure of it.
"Dixon's a scared, controlling man," Jasper muttered, shaking his head. "And he's extraordinarily angry. I'm not sure who it's directed toward, but he's just...pissed. He was a rollercoaster inside this house. He was scared, angry, desperate, and anxious to leave. And there was an interesting, yet thick layer of guilt in there. But he loves Caroline. That's a definite."
"Yeah, but when does that combination become...unhealthy?" Alice asked. "If I didn't know what becomes of her, then I'd say she'd never live a normal life. He's considering following her here, moving to Portland to be close to her while she's at school. Though, it's still a moot point. No college."
Edward's endless patience rivaled Carlisle's as they continued to soothe Archie. Emmett and Kevin joined them, trying to get him to smile, but it was like pulling teeth. I wanted to tell them all we were lucky he hadn't vanished and holed himself up in his bedroom, though I was pretty sure that's what he really, truly wanted to do.
My eyes burned with the need to shed tears as Edward's face filled with warmth and understanding. If anyone in the house understood the empty, desperate, and panic-filled emotions that Archie was going through, it was my husband. Memories flooded me – a walk into the forest, lies spat at me, and the feeling of complete and utter loss. I remembered the sight of seeing Edward again after long, hard years of pain and abuse and emptiness, and his weary expression matched my own, whether I was willing to admit it then or not.
I felt Jasper's eyes on me, and he smiled sadly when I locked gazes with him.
"It's not the same. I know you're worried Archie is in pain. He's not. They aren't you two," he explained gently. "Your connection runs deeper, a physical thing I can barely wrap my head around. Archie is simply...missing his mate. It's more like...Esme when Carlisle has to work long hours at the hospital. A general empty feeling. And he can't protect his mate while they're apart, so that makes him...edgy and sad."
Nodding, I sighed deeply. "I know. Edward and I are...weird."
Alice giggled. "Special," she corrected. "There's nothing wrong with it. It just...is."
Smiling, I reveled that my family had extensive knowledge of Edward's and my connection. They had been scared of it at first, almost overcompensating for it, but we had learned to manage it just like our thirst. If Edward and I had to be apart, it was planned, plotted, and maintained with the utmost care and concern. Once back together, we were left alone to allow that part of us to heal, reconnect. With Edward, the boys kept things light and easy. With me, Alice would ramble on and on to me about whatever Edward was doing. Phone calls and texts were an absolute must.
Caroline had asked me if our connection scared me. I'd said no, and I'd meant it. It was now a puzzle piece that made up...Edward and Bella. Alice was right; it just was.
I turned to Jasper. "You said Archie wouldn't survive leaving her."
"I did," he agreed with a single nod, giving the library window a cursory glance. "I meant it. Alice saw that if Caroline hadn't come here, she would no longer exist. She also saw that if Archie hadn't revealed us for what we are, then she would go home angry, which again, resulted in her death. Whether Archie met Caroline or not, we would've lost him eventually. He's not Edward."
Jasper voice was firm, and I urged him with a nod to go on.
He smiled, huffing a laugh. "Edward was and always will be extremely stubborn. When Alice and I first met this family, he was the first to step up to the plate to help me with our diet. No matter what I did, said, or insults I threw his way, he simply shoved my ass out the door and made me hunt. It didn't matter. I'm sure that he could see I'd meant none of it through my thoughts, but he never said so.
"As time went on and I started to get to know him, I could see just how unhappy he was. Truly unhappy. But he trudged through every day without complaint. Oh, he complains now...for your benefit," Jasper said with a chuckle, "but back then...he never said a word."
I grinned, and a giggle escaped me when sweet, warm, honey eyes met mine through the library window before they rolled so hard, I was sure Edward saw his own brain. We were keeping our voices down low, but my Edward could hear Jasper's thoughts.
"Ass," Jasper snorted when Edward shot me a grin, another eye roll, and a wink before turning back to Archie and Carlisle. "Anyway, not once did he ever consider leaving us. He'd done it once and vowed to never do it again. I'm sure that some part of my brother stayed out of pure loyalty to Carlisle, and he'd rather cut off a foot than to hurt Esme, but not once did he think to end things."
Alice was nodding silently in agreement but added, "He'd leave us for months, but it was to give himself a break. He would always come back."
Nodding, I could understand that, but I looked back to Jasper for him to finish.
"When you stumbled into our lives," Jasper sighed, wearing a smile, "that's when things changed. He was absolutely ecstatic that he'd found you but utterly petrified over the 'what ifs.' And when he left you, he was as close to dead inside as I'd ever felt. Unhappy, I could handle, but total blackness was something different. He was guilt, self-hatred, and anger personified. And that was why he didn't stay with us. I felt it all, along with my own guilt."
Jasper held up a hand when I opened my mouth to tell him there was nothing to be guilty over. "I know, I know. And I love you for it, but I'm not done. Even then...when things were at their lowest for Edward, he still never stopped trudging. He slowed down, wallowed in it for a while, but he kept going."
He leaned closer, whispering, "Archie...despite the fact that he and Caroline aren't physically connected like you and Edward, wouldn't handle things with the same grace. He's strong, definitely, but he's also extremely fragile. His general makeup is to shut down and quit because he's done it his whole life – human and immortal. Had Caroline never appeared, he would still have followed us, but he wouldn't have stayed more than a decade. I'd almost promise you that. If something happens to the one thing he considers to be worth having in this life, he'll be useless. He'll shut down, turn in on himself, and stop feeding again. We'd have no choice but to end his suffering. He's not Marcus, who can push on without his mate. He hates this life, no matter how much he loves us – because he really does – but it would never be enough, and he eventually would beg for death."
My heart hurt for Archie as I gazed unseeingly back at the blinking red dot flashing on the computer screen. It bleeped once and started to move. A brief moment of hope was shattered when it turned south instead of north back toward us. I didn't think Tim would bring his daughter back, but the romantic inside of me was wishing for a miracle.
"We should go in. It's about to..." Alice paused dramatically enough for a single fat drop of rain to splat onto the table. "Rain."
She grinned when I snorted, rolling my eyes at her. "Smart ass," I murmured, closing up my computer and following her and Jasper back inside the house.
We wandered through the living room and into the library. Edward wearily held his arms out for me, and I walked to him, standing between his legs. He hugged me close, and I couldn't resist running my fingers through his hair as Carlisle spoke to Archie in soft tones. He was talking futures and possibilities, even though Archie was listening to none of it. His eyes were on his phone, and he jumped when it rang out loudly.
The relief of a message from Caroline was practically palpable, but the sadness was still etched on Archie's handsome face when he looked up at us. "She's left Caribou."
That said, he stood up, walked to the bookcase door, and descended into his basement.
"Leave him," Edward stated, but he was looking toward Carlisle. "He just needs time." He paused for a moment. "Yes, I'm sure." My beautiful man gazed up at me with sorrowful eyes. "Why are you closed to me?"
Lifting my shield, I let him into my mind. Sorry, sweetheart. I just thought you needed to focus on Archie. My heart hurts for them, and I didn't think I should add to it.
He smiled sweetly, cupping my face. "I appreciate your concern, but I need it, sweet girl."
"Fair enough. Have at it, mind reader," I teased him with a grin.
He kissed my lips. "There it is," he sighed in relief. "That's much better."
Placing a hand on the side of Edward's handsome face, I stayed standing between his legs, but his arms remained wrapped all the way around me. Brushing a curl from the middle of his forehead, I leaned down to press a long, slow kiss there, inhaling deeply the scent that mattered most.
We were quiet. In fact, the whole house was pretty quiet; the only sounds were hushed conversations and nonsensical things coming from the television turned down low. Edward and I had our own private way of communicating.
You okay, baby? I asked, and he nodded but sighed deeply, pulling me to his lap. Is Archie okay? I mean, is he going to push through this?
Edward nodded again, his eyes sweeping over my face, and I smiled.
It's okay to be thankful, Edward. I see that you're struggling. This is bringing back a lot of memories for me, too. Everyone, actually. It's okay to hurt for him, to wish things were different. And it's...honorable of you that you're taking care of him, like I'm assuming everyone tried to take care of you.
He hugged me closer, burying his face into my neck. "They tried, love," he murmured softly against my skin. "I would have none of it. And I am...spectacularly grateful I have you."
Wrapping my arms around his shoulder and head, I held him close. I nuzzled his sharp jaw, dropping small kisses to it. Yeah, well... I didn't exactly take to help, either. Archie and Caroline aren't in physical pain, baby. They'll miss each other, but we'll get her back. She's a legal adult. There's only so much her father can do.
My derisive tone couldn't be stopped. I found Tim Dixon to be a stubborn ass, weak. I respected that she lived under his roof, that he was still responsible for her well-being and support for school, but he was blinded by his fears and insecurities. Or maybe I was still that hopeless romantic that had to have an antagonist in the story upon which to focus my hate.
Edward chuckled, kissing my neck with a loud, suckling sound. "God, baby...I love you. Always with the book references." He pulled back, smiling at me and tucking my hair behind my ear. "Your hate may be slightly...um, overzealous, but Caroline's father was...interesting. His mind was filled with guilt, something Jasper felt, I believe."
We looked up when most of the family wandered in to listen to Edward.
He turned back to me. "He'd told Caroline the truth. He had loved his wife. Deeply. And he'd been correct when he explained to her that things changed, that they became different people, very busy different people. However, his trust in her was...nonexistent. Before they moved here, he suspected that Lisa was cheating. In order to try to save his marriage, he moved them out of Ohio to here. It only exacerbated the problem. His pride, his fear of losing Caroline, and his tenacity to get back to the way things were kept his mouth shut. But the week that Lisa disappeared, he had toyed with the idea of divorce." He sighed, looking over to the bookcase doorway, where Archie was standing silently listening to him. "There were a lot of shouting matches, thrown objects, and curses that happened inside this house. Tim Dixon is grateful that his daughter remembers none of it, though he suspects that she has started to remember bits and pieces."
His head turned to our parents. "No, it wasn't that he disliked us. He truly liked meeting Esme, but he's selfish when it comes to Caroline. Almost to the point of obsession."
"That would make sense, son," Carlisle agreed with a nod. "Considering what happened before and after Lisa died. His whole life has been about taking care of her, providing for her. I assume he'll come around, and if he doesn't, then we'll do as Rose said. We'll just send her the tickets this summer."
Alice huffed angrily. "Won't happen."
"Why?!" Archie growled, his fists balling up at his sides.
"Nothing's changed, Archie..." she said sadly.
He sighed, shook his head, and walked back downstairs to his room, slamming the bookcase door behind him, which caused a few books to topple off the shelves.
"Leave him!" Edward stated firmly to Alice and Esme, who had started to follow. "He's feeling everything all at once. Just...wait."
I could see that my sweet man was taking his vow to Caroline seriously. He was watching over Archie like a guardian angel, and I couldn't love him more for it. And I could well imagine all the things our sad friend was feeling – anger, frustration, worry, and heartache. And Edward had the advantage of seeing when Archie just needed time to process and when he needed to be pulled into interaction with the family. It was a delicate line to walk. Caroline had picked the perfect person to watch over her Archie in her absence.
"I promised her," Edward whispered, his brow furrowing at my thoughts.
"I know."
It wasn't so long ago that my brothers had made the same vow to me, to protect Edward for me when we were apart. I pressed another kiss to his forehead as my eyes drifted to the now rain-spattered window. Lightning flickered across the night sky, lighting it up with white, purple, and blue. Some deep down instinctual part of me stirred at the sight of lightning, wind, and rain, aching to go out in it, to lose myself with my mate. The timing was, of course, not right, but the draw to storms would always be there.
Edward's hands gripped my thighs in warning. His eyes met mine, and I could see his struggle not to let them blacken at the sound of my thoughts.
I snorted. "Oops," I sighed, changing to communicating silently. I know, I know. Sorry, Edward. It's not the right time...blah, blah, blah. I shot a wink his way, but my smile faltered and my body jerked when my shield pulled roughly toward the basement. "Should I go to him?" I asked.
"You can try, love," Edward said softly, setting me on my feet.
Alice and Esme took that as permission to follow. I picked up the few fallen books and put them back on the shelf, reaching to unlock it. I spun when the sound of Alice gasping cry met my ears. By the time I made it to her, she was falling to her knees. Jasper met me by her side, the whole house reacting.
"Alice, what is it?" Jasper asked, but she would only shake her head.
"Jesus," Edward whispered, coming to kneel in front of her. "Show it again, Alice."
The bookcase door opened behind me, but my focus was on Edward and Alice. They were frozen, gazes locked, and each wearing expressions of shock.
Alice snapped out of it, grabbing the front of Edward's shirt. "You've got to go, Edward! You and Carlisle...you're the only ones that can go! You're the only ones that can handle it."
Edward gripped his hair and shot a look to me before standing up abruptly. "Emmett, Jasper, I need you to stay by the phone, but don't follow. Not yet, anyway." He spun to me. "Bella, sweetheart, please, please stay with Archie. Do not let him leave this house. Understand?"
I nodded fervently but waited for the whys to exit Edward's mouth.
He turned to Carlisle. "We'll take my car. You need your bag."
The whole family gasped at that last statement, but it was Archie's low growl that caused us to jump.
"Stop!" he snarled. "Edward, tell me! What happened?"
~oOo~
EDWARD
Looking to Alice one more time, I watched as the one thing we'd been unable to see concerning Caroline came to fruition. Jasper had been right all along. It had been an accident. Or at least, it would be. Alice's timing was off just a little. She couldn't tell whether it was happening now, or soon. However, the result was still the same, and Carlisle and I needed to act quickly. Otherwise, we would lose Caroline altogether.
I steeled myself for Archie's reaction. "Archie, I can't explain it all. I don't have time. But Alice sees a car accident."
"No!" he snarled, lunging for me, but he was immediately caught up in Bella's shield. "Edward...no!"
Alice shot into action, shoving me toward Carlisle, who had just returned, medical bag in hand. "We've got him. Go to her!" she commanded, standing in front of Archie. "Look at me, Arch. You've got to relax. I'll tell you what I've seen..."
Emmett tossed me the keys to the Volvo at the same time Jasper looked up from Bella's laptop.
"Brother, they're south of here...about sixty miles," he said, pointing to the screen.
Once I'd memorized which route to take, I spun to Bella. "This will separate us, Bella. It'll hurt, love. I need you to be strong until I get back in range. Okay?"
"Yeah... Yes! Just go, Edward," she answered, kissing my lips roughly.
My instinct to shelter Bella from pain was hard to ignore, but I nodded to Carlisle before we bolted out the front doors and into the car. Due to the slick grass, I spun out in the yard, which made me cringe at what Esme would say. Once we were on the highway, Carlisle turned to me.
"What did you see?" he asked.
"There was a reason we couldn't know for certain why Caroline left but then became one of us," I told him quickly. "It was a last-second decision while driving in the rain. It might or might not have happened, so nothing was ever clear. It was so blurry that it really never existed."
"Edward," Carlisle sighed in frustration.
"Sorry," I muttered, trying to focus. "Nothing became clear until Tim Dixon decided to avoid a traffic accident on the highway and take to the back roads." I looked over at him. "He's too tired, too upset with Caroline, and it's way too rainy for him to have done that, but the split second decision to go that way changed everything." I pushed the gas pedal until our surroundings were a blur. "His reaction time is slow. A deer jumps out in front of him..." My voice trailed off, but Carlisle nodded.
"He loses control," he surmised. "It's the butterfly effect..."
"Yes," I answered him but hissed long and hard when my chest exploded in pain. My knuckles bulged as the steering wheel creaked under the pressure in which I was squeezing. "Christ," I panted, trying to breathe. I'd just crossed over the limit of Bella's and my connection.
Carlisle gripped my shoulder. His mind urged me to relax, if only for a moment. I swallowed thickly, finally nodding when the pain settled down into a dull throb instead of the feel of a twisting knife.
I nodded to him in thanks.
"What are the possible outcomes, son?" he asked, not only to keep me focused, but to know what he was up against.
"Too many to consider, but they're...hurt."
Carlisle was silent for a few minutes. He realized now why Alice had insisted that it be the two of us. Both of us were medically trained, both of us had better control around human blood than the rest, and both of us could handle whatever emergency we found. Though, he assumed that Bella was needed to keep Archie inside the house.
"Yes. All of that," I sighed, gripping at my hair.
The scene that unfolded in Alice's vision had been shocking, if not a little scattered, because there were still things unseen. The black rental sedan that Tim Dixon was driving was upside down in the ditch. It looked like he had overcompensated when he'd swerved to miss the deer, which resulted in loss of control. The car had flipped.
However, time was of the essence. Alice saw us not making it to them in time, and we lost them both. She saw Tim's death, Caroline's agony, and a shattered cell phone. She saw blood, Carlisle's quick work of trying to help, and me talking to Mr. Dixon, who looked penned beneath a crushed dashboard. And finally, she saw Emmett and Jasper setting the car on fire to cover it all up like the gas tank exploded. One vision, Caroline was taken over by flames, and another, she wasn't in the car at all.
I pushed my Volvo way over a hundred miles per hour. The back roads were luckily deserted due to the late hour and the terrible weather. I couldn't focus on what it would do to Archie to lose his mate. I just couldn't. It would be the most unfair thing life could to do an immortal that had already suffered so much. I'd heard everything Jasper had told my Bella. Archie was simply not strong enough to handle it. Although, most of us would beg for death if something happened to our mates. Bella and I, on the other hand, wouldn't be given a choice. Our connection was too strong. The death of one would result in the death of the other. Our bodies would physically fail us.
Carlisle's cell rang, and he answered it with the speakerphone. "Emmett..."
"Yeah, um..." He stammered, and I could hear my girl arguing with Archie in the background. It sounded like chaos. "Jasper wanted me to tell you that you're closing in on them, but Alice said to take the next side dirt road and park because you don't want to be seen. She says that the way the car is... Well, they wouldn't have been found by passing cars."
"Got it," I said, pushing the car's limits.
"And Ed...she also said to tell you that it's okay to tell Tim the truth...whatever that means," he murmured.
"I'm sure I'll find out," I sighed, keeping my eyes open for the dirt road, but I understood how Alice's visions worked. I would know that moment when it was upon me.
The road turned to the left, and up ahead on the right was the dirt road that I needed. Slowing down, I squelched to a stop, grateful for the SUV's larger tires. The scent of spilled gasoline, burned rubber, and brake dust filled the car once I opened the doors, but the potent aroma of blood – both human and animal – set my throat aflame.
Rubbing my chest, I saw the deer's carcass discarded up a little way. Breaking out into a run, we passed it by, the scent of metal and blood drawing nearer. It looked like Tim had clipped the deer, because as I looked down the steep embankment, I could see how the whole accident played out. Tim had swerved at the bounding deer, locking up the brakes and clipping the animal, but when the car started to spin, he'd turned the wheel the wrong way too sharply and flipped off the road.
Carlisle and I jumped down at the same time, landing at the rear of the car. It was twisted metal and shattered glass. The engine was still slightly warm, so we weren't that late. There were two heartbeats, thankfully. However, one wasn't in the car.
"Christ," Carlisle breathed, rushing toward the trees, and I followed him.
We both fell to our knees on either side of Caroline's crumbled body. Her breathing was ragged, her pretty blonde locks were stained red, and her leg was broken, jutting off at an odd angle. Carlisle immediately got to work, assessing, touching, talking.
"Caroline, sweetheart, can you hear me?" he said gently. But he looked up at me. "Her lung is collapsed, that leg is shattered, and possibly this arm, too, and she may have internal bleeding..."
I nodded, lifting her eyelids to see dark and dilated pupils. "Concussion, too."
"Edward...go check on her father," he told me gently. "I'll do what I can here."
I ran to the driver's side of the car, kneeling down to look inside. It seemed the car had landed mostly on the front, top of the car, so the dashboard was collapsed into the seats. Miraculously, Tim's window was intact. The scent of blood was less near him, his heartbeat growing fainter, but the sound of his breathing and internal functions were labored. Tim Dixon was hemorrhaging internally.
"Help," he barely uttered.
"Mr. Dixon, close your eyes," I ordered, balling up my fist and wiping rain from my face.
His shocked gaze flashed to mine, but he didn't have the wherewithal to focus on why I was there. He did as I said, squeezing his eyes shut. I punched the window, thankful that the tinting held the shards together so that I could pull it away. Tossing it aside, I assessed the inside of the car, how Tim was penned, and monitored his heart rate. His blood pressure was dropping. Quickly.
"Carrie..." he wheezed.
"My father's with her. He's doing the best he can, okay?" I verified, glad he was able to listen and interact. I reached in, felt his jugular for his pulse, and sighed deeply. "Mr. Dixon, can you move at all?"
He struggled, only to wince in pain. He panted at the exertion and shook his head no. "I can't feel my feet."
"Okay, close your eyes again." I stood up, wrenching the car's door completely off the car in order to get a better view of things.
"How... Who... What?" he sputtered, but the pain was too much. He stopped talking, but his thoughts were anarchy. He wanted to know how we'd gotten to him so fast, what was happening with Caroline, and he wanted to sleep. He was tired, but most of that was due to his injuries. When he realized I'd just ripped off a car door, he gazed up at me. What is he?
Taking a deep breath, I said, "I'm going to try to help you, but you have to stay calm."
"Carrie?"
I paused, listening to Carlisle's mind as he pushed a small tube into her chest to inflate her collapsed lung. She took a deep, healthy breath, only to start coughing. The cough was wet, thick, and I knew her chances were slim.
"She's alive," I told him. "She was thrown from the car, it looks like."
"Took...her...seat belt...off," he panted. "Phone..."
I nodded, seeing more from his mind than what his sputtered words could tell me. Caroline had dropped her phone to the floorboard of the car. She'd taken her seat belt off to reach for it, but it had been ill-timed.
"Carlisle, his legs are trapped," I called out.
"If you move him, you're risking him going into shock," he told me, though I knew that. I was just making sure. "He hasn't been trapped for long, but you could risk losing him."
"Dammit," I groaned, looking into the back seat. "Tim, I need you to stay with me," I instructed, reaching for a discarded T-shirt from the pile of belongings that were scattered everywhere inside the car. "I'm going to cover your face to protect you, but you have to focus on my voice. I'm going to try to pull you out, okay?"
He whimpered a little but nodded acquiescence. His eyes were wide and frightened, filling with tears of pain when I lightly draped the material over his face. Reaching into the car, I gripped the steering wheel, wrenching it up and out of the way. Bracing one hand on the roof of the car and another on the dashboard, I pushed upward, releasing Tim's legs. I gripped his shirt, dragging him out of the car and onto the wet grass.
I pulled the shirt away, now able to focus on his true injuries. His feet were still not moving, but his hands were free, and they gripped my shirt with surprising strength.
"Help her...not me!"
"We're doing what we can...for both of you," I told him. "Try not to move, okay? I'm going to get some supplies."
I flew to Carlisle's bag, grabbing what I could – bandages, a suture kit, and morphine. I stopped when scared, red-rimmed blue eyes opened.
"Edward," she whispered.
"Hey." I fell beside her, pushing her hair from her face, which made her wince because there was a rather large cut above her eye. "Relax. Carlisle's going fix you up."
"My dad..."
"I'm doing my best, but he's pretty hurt."
"Archie... You have to tell him, Edward," she begged, her breathing and heartbeat picking up. "You have to tell him I love him."
"Easy, Caroline," Carlisle soothed, but his eyes met mine. She's not looking good, son. I'm...I don't know if we can get her to a hospital in time.
"You can't... Just...do your best. Let me get back to him." I shook my head, whispering low enough Caroline couldn't hear. "He won't make it. That's a fact. His internal damage is too much. I can smell the bleeding. If I had to guess...his liver and kidneys took a helluva hit." Looking back to Caroline, I smiled softly. "Hang in there, okay? I'm not telling Archie anything. You'll tell him," I vowed to her, because if I had to change her myself, Archie would not lose his mate.
She tried to smile, but it appeared more like a grimace, hissing when her head throbbed.
I squeezed her hand gently before returning in a flash back to Tim.
"You're not real," he whispered, his eyes squeezing shut with the pain. "You're too young to know what you're doing..."
"I assure you, Mr. Dixon. I'm very real," I said, maintaining a soothing tone as I started cleaning the wound on his head. "And I'm...older than I look."
His mind wandered, and he was growing too tired to speak, but he thought about me, the house, the past. When his mind settled on the memories of meeting my family, I threw caution to the wind.
"The house isn't haunted now, nor was it ever haunted," I told him, smiling when he realized I'd heard his thoughts. He didn't want to believe it. "No, I can hear you," I said, tapping my temple, now trusting Alice with why honesty was the best policy. The reason was, Tim wasn't going to live to tell anyone. "Most of my family is rather...talented. One can see the future. She saw...this," I explained to him, gesturing to the car with a single finger.
The rain had slowed down just a bit, but I used the T-shirt from before to wipe his face gently.
"How? Why?" he simply asked, unable to articulate more.
I sniffed, lifting his shirt to feel his abdomen for internal damage. He was a mess inside, and I groaned. "My name is Edward Anthony Masen Cullen. I'm a hundred and fifteen years old," I told him solemnly. "Your Caroline has now become a very important member of my family."
"You can...save her."
"Yes."
"Do it. Fuck helping me...go!" he panted, groaning in pain.
"My father's with her. I assure you, she couldn't be in better hands," I vowed, reaching up to wipe away the blood that was collecting in the corner of his mouth.
"She'll live...she'll have a life?" he verified.
"Yes. A different life, but my sister has seen her future. Caroline is extraordinarily happy," I assured him. He couldn't decide if I was a demon or an angel, and even though for most of my life, I'd assumed the former, I said, "I'm neither, sir."
He wheezed again, coughing harshly, and I held him up to help him breath a little easier. Placing another shirt behind his head, I squeezed his shoulder.
His thoughts fell to Lisa, and he wondered if he'd see her again. He felt cold, yet hot at the same time, but he could only feel that down to his mid-thigh.
I sighed deeply. "You're paralyzed, and you're bleeding internally. I wish... There's not much I can do... I can make you comfortable," I offered, holding up the vial of morphine and swiftly filling the needle with the liquid inside.
"Wait," he coughed, gripping my wrist. "You say Carrie's important. How?"
"She's the...soulmate of my brother," I told him. "If she dies, he dies."
"Archie..."
"Yes. You've met him before. He's saved her before," I told him cryptically, but he nodded, his memories of a familiar smell flashing to the forefront of his mind. "He was who told you to get out of the Varner house ten years ago. He was...not the same then, but he knew he what he was capable of."
"Lisa?" he asked, sounding hopeful and doubtful at the same time.
Squeezing his hand that was still gripping my wrist, I said, "She never left you." It was the simplest explanation and what he needed to hear.
Will I see her again? He thought this mostly to himself, but I answered anyway.
"Yes." It was the only answer I could give him. I had to believe that he'd see her again. It was what I would've wanted to hear – that I'd see the love of my life on the other side.
You'll take care of her? His mind showed me his daughter, flashes from when she was born all the way up until the last heated conversation they'd had in the restaurant in Caribou.
"I swear it. She'll always be taken care of, loved, and supported. She'll never want for anything for as long as she lives. She will be surrounded by the best and strongest protection you can imagine," I vowed.
Pain seized his body, causing him to bow up off the ground, and more blood trickled out of his mouth. "Take her... Don't let her see this. She's suffered enough."
His thoughts turned to Caroline, how her sobs had been inconsolable after pulling away from Archie. He'd been frantic with what to do, and he never wanted her to hurt like that again.
Edward, he's dying. I can hear it from here.
"I know," I growled low enough Tim couldn't hear me. "I can't stop it, Carlisle! Even if I stabilized him, he'll never walk again. And that's if he survived the ride. The closest hospital is back in Caribou."
Son, I have to make a decision here... Soon, Caroline will be beyond what venom can fix.
I panicked suddenly, looking down at Tim Dixon. His breathing was shallow, his eyes glazed in pain because I'd yet to administer the morphine.
"I can stop this... I can offer you a choice," I told him softly. "The result is immortality, endless life, but you wouldn't be human. You would become...more. You would walk this Earth for eternity."
Edward... Carlisle warned in my mind, but I ignored him.
I couldn't not offer him the choice. My mind fell to my Bella. If something like this had happened to Charlie, I would've made the same offer. The circumstances wouldn't have made a difference. However, Tim was far too gone to make the decision. He shook his head no, his eyes flickering to the syringe in my hand. He wanted no more pain. He couldn't take it. The last thoughts were of a conversation he'd had with his brother while in the airport waiting to board for Maine.
"Timmy, you can't hold onto Carrie forever," Jack said with a groan. "She's an adult, about to embark on making something of herself. If you follow her, she'll never grow up. She'll always be stunted."
"She's all I have, Jack," Tim countered, sagging in the seat of the airport.
"And you've done amazing with her, but you have to let her go. She's already pushing you away because you're smothering her. You push too much now, and you'll lose her forever. She'll run from you, and she won't look back. You're lucky she called you this time. Next time, it'll be a guy she escapes with..." Jack sighed deeply over the line. "She has to learn to make her own mistakes. You can't cushion everything. Hiding behind your memories of Lisa is what made her run in the first place. You practically lied to her her whole life."
"I know..."
As I slid the needle into Tim's arm, I leaned closer. "Caroline knows the truth, Tim. She knows that you were protecting her. She's glad that you did it. She doesn't think you're a liar; she believes in you. She said that you're still her hero, okay?" I said this, remembering how sad Caroline had been when she thought she couldn't believe a word her father said. Now that she knew the truth, her faith in her father was completely restored.
A tear slipped from his eye, rolling back into his hair as he nodded, but a small smile tugged at the corner of his now blood-lined lips. His lungs filled quickly, his breathing shallow, but the effects of the morphine took hold. His mind registered blissful, numb, and cold. He was slipping away, but at least he was no longer in pain. His heart beat once, twice, and the third was the last. I sighed, bowing my head and shaking it. I sent a prayer up with him that he found peace from fears and sadness.
"Edward..." Carlisle called, and with one last glance at Tim's body, I ran to his side.
"I have to change her," he stated, looking to me. "She'll be too weak if I wait any longer, but we'll have to drive her back as the venom takes hold."
Gazing down at her, I brushed a hair off of her cheek, and her eyes opened. "Hangin' in there?" I asked her, trying to smile and not wanting to tell her about her father just yet. Things were about to get a whole lot more painful for her before they got better.
But apparently, it was written all over my face. "He's gone?" she whimpered softly.
"I'm so sorry, Caroline," I told her. "I tried. He was way too injured."
A sob erupted from her, and she gasped, "I... Archie..."
"Look at me," I soothed, leaning closer to her. "We'll take you to Archie, but you have to tell us what you want. Do you want this?" I asked, gesturing to my body.
"I want Archie," she said simply, looking to Carlisle. "Please... I want to see Esme..."
I spun my gaze to my father, whose expression had completely melted at that last confession. "She knows what we're offering her. She's aware... The pain is too much. You can't allow her to die. Archie won't survive it. She's his mate, Carlisle. You would've changed Bella for me."
He looked to me, his expression determined. Call your brothers. We'll need to cover some of this up.
My phone beeped, and I pulled it out to see a text from Bella.
B: The boys are already on their way. Alice said to start her change now, but you'll have to hold her in the car, Edward. She'll fight you once the venom starts. I'd call you, but Archie can't hear this right now.
E: Yes, ma'am. Thank you. Love you.
I looked to my father. "Emmett and Jasper have already left." When he nodded, I looked to Caroline, rubbing the wrinkle to her brow when she flinched in pain. "Caroline, look at me," I ordered softly. Deep blue locked with mine, and I smiled sadly. "I know it hurts, but you have to be strong for us...for Archie, okay? It's about to get worse, and we're sorry for that, but I promise you that when it's over, you'll never hurt again. And you'll be with Archie. All right?"
She cried softly but nodded. The poor thing was scared to death, but she was completely aware of what was about to happen.
I looked to Carlisle when his thoughts asked how my control was.
I think we need to get as much venom into her as quickly as possible, Edward. Is your control stable enough to help me?
"Yes, sir," I sighed, grimacing a little, but the reality of it was that no blood was ever as tempting as my Bella's. As sweet as human blood could be, it no longer appealed to me as it once had. Maybe it was Carlisle's teaching, maybe it was Bella's faith in me, but I actually had to force my instinct to start working.
"Now," Carlisle ordered, picking up her left wrist as I took the right.
Venom flooded my mouth before my teeth sliced through the soft tissue, but I closed off my throat to the explosion of blood that hit my tongue. Pulling away, I started adding small boosts of venom to different points on the now whimpering girl – knees, ankles, the crook of her elbow. Carlisle bent to her neck, giving her the biggest amount yet, and I could smell the venom swirling through her body as it started to take hold.
The sound of tires on wet concrete met my ears from up on the road. Glancing up, I could see Emmett's truck.
"Jasper!" I called, getting up from beside Caroline and running back to the overturned car. Both my brothers stared down at Mr. Dixon sadly but looked to me. "We had no choice."
"Yeah, we know, Ed. Alice called us," Emmett said solemnly, placing a hand on my shoulder. "We'll have to make this look like a gas leak or engine fire or somethin'."
"Help Carlisle keep her calm, at least until we leave," I told Jasper, and he nodded and trotted off. "Em, let's put him back inside the car."
With careful maneuvering, my brother and I repositioned Tim back into his trapped state. Emmett eyed the car, taking mental note of all of Caroline's belongings. He wanted to take them, but we had to leave them in order to make it look like she was inside the vehicle when it exploded.
"Dad, load her up! This is about to go up," he yelled, pulling out matches.
Our father gently scooped up Caroline into his arms, holding her as best he could as she writhed in pain. He handed her to me, turning to clean up his medical trash. Emmett tossed a lit match onto the pool of gasoline that had slowly collected at the back of the sedan.
By the time I'd made it to my Volvo, the flames had grown higher, brighter, stronger. I set Caroline into the back seat, Jasper flew into the passenger seat, and I tossed Carlisle my keys for him to drive. She curled into me once I sat next to her, her body shaking, her mind completely overtaken with the fire, the burn, the pain, despite all that Jasper could send her way, because he took the immortal change very, very seriously. His life experience made him that way.
"Emmett says he'll follow us. He's going to make sure the authorities find him," I said softly, meeting my father's gaze.
With a nod, Carlisle pulled out at the same time that the car in the ditch exploded. Caroline flinched, gripping me ferociously.
"Easy," I whispered, holding her as gently as I could, even though her skin hurt with my touch. "Focus on my voice, okay? Know that we're taking you to Archie."
With that said, I started to hum Bella's lullaby, hoping that it would soothe her. My sweet girl had said it had helped give her some peace during her change. I just hoped it helped poor Caroline.
Carlisle pulled out his phone, dialing home quickly. With a deep sigh, he said, "We're on our way, Esme. Be ready. As soon as she's changed, we'll have to move."
"I understand," she said firmly. "Be careful. We'll take care of everything."

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