Charlie’s funeral was a subdued affair. Alaric was pleased with his niece’s idea for how to give her father a proper send off in the place he enjoyed spending his free time. He knew the man much preferred the time with her more, but he remained silent on his thoughts as the pastor spoke on his brother’s quiet nature and good deeds for their sleepy town.
Jeremy and he sat beside her silently during the small ceremony, respectively listening to his colleagues speak of his sense of duty. As they got into sharing stories of investigating animal attacks that had occurred in the woods, the two paid a little closer attention. As the teenager was about to comment to Alaric, the man subtly elbowed him as he adjusted in his seat to silence him before leaning over to check on Bella.
“You know if you want to get out of here, just say the word. I can always make a distraction for you,” he smiled as he whispered his offer.
She couldn’t help but to snort softly. “Thanks but I’ll survive,” she replied, keeping her eyes forward. The pain of her memories during the period that the officers were speaking was clear however.
Alaric noted her expressions and filed it away for consideration later. “How about we do something fun tonight? After this week, I think we can use it. Your choice of activity.”
Hesitating, her eyes tightened as she knew she didn’t want to get too close to her extended family with the secrets she held but at the same time, the invitation was incredibly welcoming. If anything, she knew she would be able to include her friend and it would offer them some protection as her eyes shifted to look at him sideways. Her lips struggled to remain passive but he saw that he had her as the corners lifted in her acceptance and he nodded. As the two turned their attention back to the service, Bella couldn’t help but feel a sense of unease as she looked around, seeking out the source but failing.
She casually turned her head to look over where Jacob had stood with some of his pack friends, biting her lip and tucking her hair behind her ear as she shifted her gaze to the woods beyond them. It had become a form of silent communication between them when around others that when she felt uncomfortable or like she was being watched in an unnatural manner, something they had grown to not discount for all the attempts that had been taken against her previously, that two of the younger additions to their group slipped away with a nod from Sam as he and Jake begun to pay closer attention to their surroundings rather than the words being said.
When the service ended and all condolences were given to Bella and Alaric by the visitors as they left, those within the group were more than ready to leave the lakeside. Jake had to carry his father back due to the difficult path that his wheelchair couldn’t handle and when everyone was back at their cars, Billy turned his attention to the young woman. “He was so proud of you Bella,” he said deeply.
“Thank you, Billy,” she smiled as she rested a hand on his shoulder. “Has anyone said anything?”
He looked back to where Alaric and Jeremy were speaking by their rental and gave her a small nod. “They picked up a scent but by the time they were able to get on it’s trail, it was gone. It wasn’t one of them though,” he murmured. “One of hers.”
“She’s still watching. We knew that,” she sighed as she ran a hand through her hair in frustration.
“How long are your visitors staying?” he asked with concern.
She grimaced as she wrapped her arms around herself, pulling her sweater tighter. “Awhile. He managed to get Jeremy transferred out here for school so at least a couple months it looks. From what they’ve said of their life back east, I understand their need to get away, but why now? They are just going to get themselves hurt and it’ll be my fault.”
“It is not your fault Bella. You know where the blame solely lies and you remember that,” the old man scolded her. “I won’t hear of this talk and I know this isn’t you anymore. Now I hope this is just the feelings from the day and I will let it slide but child if I hear these words come from you again! Charlie did not give his life so that you can suffer. You are a fighter Bella. So fight back.”
Taking a deep breath, she nodded. “My uncle wants me to spend some time with him so I might not be able to make it to the rez for a few days to help with planning.”
“That’s fine. I’ll make sure someone is around you to keep an eye on things. Spend time with your uncle. I’ve been watching him with you. He cares for you and is worried by your pushing him away. Don’t push him too much,” he smiled at her. “Now go. Have some fun for once.”
“Thank you, Billy,” Bella called as she watched him start to wheel himself away. He only waved a hand in response as he joined his son and their pack leader, leaving her to make her way to her uncle and his charge.
While everyone had been separated, saying their goodbyes, Alaric and Jeremy stayed off to the side to allow Bella her time with her friends and those she’d come to consider her family over the years. They’ve watched her closely, amused both at the fire and amount of genuine warmth that filled her as she spoke with the old man. “Animal attacks?” Jeremy questioned with slight hesitation in his voice.
“Sounds like it,” Alaric commented, his eyes going from one person to another but no one stood out to him who might be a vampire – or at least the kind that he was thinking of. “All of these people have been coming and going from the house freely at one point or another. I double checked. Charlie added Bella to the deed when she turned eighteen so if anyone was one, at some point during these sympathy visits, the doorway would have stopped them.”
“Maybe Charlie or Bella didn’t know and already invited in whoever is responsible?”
An irritated sigh at such irresponsibility came from him as he tried to picture his brother randomly inviting a stranger into his house. “Doubtful. I don’t know. I think we should ask one of our friends to come visit and check things out.”
“Damon?” Jeremy asked curiously.
Alaric frowned slightly, only because he knew his friend would be all over his niece with his curiosity about her. He’s already been dodging his calls and texts since they’d left Virginia. He knew his friend was more than slightly offended that he hadn’t asked him along to help with his investigation into his brother’s death, but he hadn’t been ready to really discuss his family with anyone else yet. “I don’t know. Damon – is well, Damon. He’ll do what you need him to, but I don’t know if I want him around Bella right now either. She doesn’t need that kind of drama.”
“We all know that he screams drama when he’s around too,” Jeremy grinned. “Stefan then? I seriously doubt he would voluntarily up and leave my sister with Damon lurking as well.”
“Well we can’t ask Caroline,” Ric sighed. “If there is anyone who might annoy my niece more right now, it’s a bubbly cheerleader. I’ll call Stefan tonight.”
The boy nodded and stood up straighter as he cleared his throat when he noticed Bella heading their way. He smiled slightly at her as his hair fell into his eyes while he moved to hold the passenger door open for her, causing her to laugh quietly. “Thanks,” she said.
“Anytime,” he murmured, closing it after her and went to slide into the backseat. “So what are we doing tonight?”
She released a breath as her head fell back against the seat and thought about what was in the area. “There is very little to do. The La Push guys like cliff jumping but I’m not in the mood for that and the last time I did, well it didn’t end very well. Port Angeles has a movie theater but we can do that at home too. They have a bowling alley?”
“Bowling sounds good,” Alaric replied as he looked over at Jeremy, who nodded as he steered the car onto the road and took off for the small city. His eyes had been on the rear view mirror, watching the reservation boys that stared at their vehicle until it disappeared from sight and sighed with relief once they were in the clear.
The conversation was light as the three made the hour drive to their destination. Jeremy helped break some uncomfortable silences, amusing Bella, as he complained about some text messages he received from his sister before continuing on, cracking jokes about her and their friends back in Virginia.
When they reached the bowling alley, Ric sent the two ahead to get their balls and shoes while he paid for their lane. Pulling his phone out, he quickly dialed up the number he’d been itching to call since the group set out on the road from the funeral service and waited for him to answer.
“Hey Ric. How are things in Washington?” Stefan greeted as he answered the phone. “I’m sorry to hear about your brother. Elena filled me in after you left.”
“Yeah man, thanks. We just finished the service today but we’re going to hang around a bit longer. I think there is more going on here than everyone is saying that I can’t quite put my finger on. Jeremy and I been following the news since we got here and everything screams vampire but we’ve been watching and both of us haven’t felt like we’ve come across any,” he explained as he looked around to be sure he wasn’t being overheard.
He heard his friend pull in a deep breath as he thought about the situation. “It could be and they are hiding very well but without being there to help track them, I can’t be of much help.”
“I know…Stefan, I wouldn’t ask you if I didn’t think it wasn’t something,” Ric pressed impatiently.
“You want me to come out there? Honestly, I think Damon would be better to help you on this. He’s more traveled and is a better hunter than I am for things like this. Stronger too if it comes down to a fight.”
The human pressed his hand to his forehead, figuring that he would have made the exact suggestion he thought of himself for the same reasons but dismissed for one reason. “I would have called him but I really want to avoid him coming out here as much as possible right now. You know how he is and with my niece – Stef…I’m the only family she has left.”
Stefan’s sigh was audible and Alaric could picture him pinching the bridge of his nose in his stress at the thought of leaving Elena behind as the new vampire she was in his brother’s care. “Alright. I’ll see what I can do and try to grab the first flight I can. I’ll call you when I know the details.”
“Thank you,” Ric said gratefully before he hung up and quickly joined the two who waited for him by the shoe counter. He grinned as he showed the attendant their receipt so that they could get their bowling shoes. “We’re on lane eight. You all want any snacks?”
“I guess I could use a soda,” Bella shrugged as she dug in her pocket to pull out some money but he waved her off as he handed her a few bills.
“It’s on me,” he said. “Get something for all of us. We’ll meet you at the lane? Just holler if you need a hand.”
She eyed him curiously but said nothing as she headed off towards the food bar. While she gave her order, the boys could see that she was still watching them carefully so they too had to remain cautious as they spoke while they made their way to the lane.
“Stefan is going to come out and check the area for us,” Alaric said as he looked over his shoulder.
“Okay…How are you going to get him into the house if it’s in her name without telling her what he is? She’s not stupid and I have a feeling she sees more than she lets on,” Jeremy pointed out. “I think she knows way more about Charlie and what’s going on around here.”
Ric frowned, looking at him, not liking the sound of what he was hearing. “Why do you say that?”
The boy shrugged as he leaned over to change his shoes. “Just do. She’s always watching everything around her more than people usually do. The way you and I do since we know about what’s really out there. Plus she seems a bit paranoid at night. Have you noticed that she tends to check the windows several times to make sure they are locked?”
“Yeah. I thought that was because of the break in from Charlie’s death,” he muttered. “Maybe we’re jumping things here. Let’s just have some fun, cheer her up a little, relax, and wait for Stefan to scope the area. I still have to tell Jenna that we’re going to be awhile longer.”
“You are going to be in a shit load of trouble,” Jeremy mumbled. He was worried that his friend’s sneaking around would one day backfire and ruin his relationship with his aunt.
“I figured as much. As far as getting Stefan in…She’ll invite him in. It’s in her nature,” Ric replied as he looked over his shoulder to find Bella heading their way with her arms full of food and drinks for them. “Hopefully he’ll be here by tomorrow but we’ll talk later.”
Bella joined the boys, handing off the food she held. “I didn’t know what you two wanted but I figured that if you were anything like the guys on the Rez, then you’d just eat everything anyway,” she said as she glanced between them, noticing but not commenting on the tension the two of them held, causing her to narrow her eyes slightly. “So are we ready to get started?”
The boys nodded, eager to drop the subject in her presence and began filling her in on some changes of their plans to stick around longer, claiming to have a developed a fondness for the boring region. Alaric casually mentioned that one of their friends from Virginia would be coming out soon to bring them some extra things as a warning. While she wasn’t too thrilled, Bella nodded politely as she focused on the game as she seemed distracted by it, though it was clear she wasn’t pleased.
It wasn’t for nearly three days before anyone saw or heard anything from back East because Alaric’s girlfriend was upset. She agreed to let Jeremy stay with him for the extended stay after he pitched his excuses but she also made it clear that she wasn’t happy at the same time. After he spoke with Jenna, he had the opportunity to talk with Elena and learn that Stefan was already on his way, having left early in the morning and should already have been on his way to town.
That knowledge had him feeling both anxious and relieved when he hung up as he looked over at his niece where she sat in the living room in Charlie’s old chair reading. Taking a deep breath, he ran a hand through his hair and looked around curious. “Where’s Jeremy?” he asked.
Bella looked up and shrugged. “I don’t know. I think he said something about heading out for a run. I warned him that the woods around here aren’t that safe as I remembered we had a lot of animal attacks when I was here for high school and over the years.”
“Yeah I read about those in the papers,” he muttered. “We had similar cases back home. Our friend that I told you about the other day, Stefan? I just got confirmation that he’s already on his way.”
She stared at him with her brown eyes glowing with her secrets. “There isn’t much room here Uncle Ric,” she reminded him quietly.
Alaric nodded. “It’ll be fine. Stefan knows of the arrangements. He can crash in a sleeping back on the floor or the boys can take turns with the couch. If he’s not able to make that work then he can go get a room at the motel. Fair enough?” He knew her nature wouldn’t let her kick his friend out, or at least he was betting on it as ashamed as he was to think about playing her that way.
Letting out a sigh, she looked out the window that faced the forest to the back of the house. He couldn’t quite make out the thoughts behind the expression on her face but he knew one thing she was resolving when she next spoke. “No. No. We’ll figure this out. No need to let your friend be around town not knowing what’s going on in this god forsaken place,” she muttered under her breath.
He stared at her, confused by her words as he wondered what she meant. It made him think more about the vampire problem in Mystic Falls and was all the more eager for Stefan to get to Forks quicker. “Great. I’ll try giving him a call and see where he’s at. If you need me, I’ll be out. Just call.”
Bella didn’t respond as she continued to look out the window coldly, lost in her thoughts. It was an expression he’d seen before but only on his vampire friends. Damon and Stefan both had equally terrifying emptiness before. Only with Stefan, it was when he was in ripper mode and it was a nightmare for all around. He didn’t let himself dwell on it long before he left the house to be able to call the man in question away from her ears.
Stefan thankfully was quick to answer to his surprise. “Alaric. I’m already in Forks,” he answered, his voice low from wherever he was.
Looking around, Alaric frowned as he wasn’t exactly happy that he was already there but hadn’t let him know. “Okay. So should I expect to see you soon?” he questioned.
He could hear him let out a long breath and strained to try to hear anything on may give away where he may be on phone. “Yeah I’ll find you soon. I was just checking out the area before checking in. Ric – we need to talk and you’re not going to be happy.”
“That bad?” Ric sighed as he ran his hand over his face, turning to look over his shoulder towards the house.
“We’ll talk as soon as I get to you. I passed by the address you gave already so I know where you’re at,” he replied as sounds of rustling could be heard.
“I’m out right now. Jeremy decided to go for a run so I’m going to see if I can find him.”
“Do that. I’ll keep an eye out on my way in the meanwhile. From now on, don’t go anywhere without someone with you. Trust me on this Alaric. You need to call Damon. I’ll explain when I see you.” He hung up leaving Alaric irritated and frustrated. Whatever Stefan found that made him insist on calling his brother for his help might truly be a reason to be scared. Picking up his step, he started calling out for Jeremy in the meanwhile, hoping that he’d find him soon.
Alaric eventually caught up with his charge at a nearby corner mart and soon they returned back to the house together while he filled him in along the way. Jeremy shared in his concerns on whatever could put the vampire on edge and want a somewhat unstable one to help.
When they reached the house, they found Stefan and Bella on the front stoop talking as they waited for them. As amiable as their conversation appeared, Stefan had a peculiar look as he stared back at her while she responded to something he asked. His eyes flicked over to the two and smiled, apologizing as he interrupted her and stood. “Ric, Jeremy. Nice town,” he greeted as he met them halfway,reached out to shake Alaric’s hand and pulled him in for a hug. Whispering in his ear, he added, “She knows more than she lets on. We need to talk. Soon.”
Ric nodded as he sucked in a breath, smiling tersely. “Yeah, it’s smaller than Mystic Falls, but Charlie loved it all the same,” he answered back, glancing over at Bella, who started back inside already to leave the boys to their reunion. “Bella invite you in yet?”
“Yes. That’s fine, but you have a bigger problem here,” Stefan said seriously as he looked around cautiously as if to make sure no one was around to overhear them.
“Yeah you implied as much on the phone. How about you tell us why you want to call your brother in. What do you think is going on?” He asked, his patience growing thin.
He seemed even more agitated as his eyes swung over to the forestline, looking searchingly. “The area is steaming with the supernatural and Bella has the scent of something covering her. Not quite like the werewolves we’ve encountered but it smells similar. Just like a wet dog but I know it’s not human, or at least not completely. I don’t know. I’ve never encountered it before.”
Alaric nodded slowly as he let it sink in. Jeremy had been quiet until then and was rather serious as he turned to look at him. “She’s been spending a lot of time up on the reservation with the Quileutes. You think they know anything about this? I remember when I did that paper on vampires for you, I found references about tribes having a number of legends about things like vampires.”
“I don’t know. Like I said, call Damon. That’s the other thing,” Stefan hesitated as he looked back to Ric. “I picked up another type of scent. I don’t know just how much you really know about vampires but I doubt you know about them.”
“Them?” Ric prompted, not knowing where this was going.
Leaning in, Stefan looked into his eyes as he was as steady and serious as he could be. “There are two breeds of vampires, Alaric. My kind and another. Cold Ones. I’ve never actually came across them, only heard of them. Damon has experience with them though. He told me once what to watch for and this area has that sickly sweet scent he described all over it.” He paused as he waited a moment. Turning to look over his shoulder, he frowned at the sight. “Including Bella’s house.”
“There is some other vampire species scent all over my niece’s house?” he asked almost in despair.
“It’s faded but it’s there. Covered by layers of the wet dog scent. Alaric, you need Damon here. I wish I could tell you something else but this is way out of my league. I don’t know what they are really like, so please take my advice. I’ll stick around to help out if he thinks you’ll need it of course.”
Alaric let out a sigh. Nodding slowly as he closed his eyes, he knew he was right. “Fine. Let’s call him,” he agreed finally. “Anything to protect Bella now.”