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“Aro, I know that you’re in pain. You’re struggling with reality. Fuck, you’re talking to a ghost,” Marcus said. “Is this what you really want to do?”
“I’ve killed, Marcus. First, Angela and then that little faggot at the coffee shop,” Aro said. “God, he wouldn’t shut up!”
“Don’t forget your partner,” Marcus said wryly, crouching over Peter. “You’ve avenged my death, brother.”
“No, I didn’t! Charlie Swan killed you. He ignored you,” Aro ranted.
“He fucking saved you, idiot!” Marcus argued. “If it weren’t for Charlie Swan, you’d be with me, six feet under.”
“I couldn’t even have a funeral for you, Marcus. I had no money, and you were cremated … not that there was a lot left,” Aro said sadly. “I don’t have a way to remember you, brother. Instead, I see you in my dreams, in my nightmares.”
“In your reality,” Marcus said. “Aro, I will always love you. Despite what you did that night I died and what you’re doing now, I love you. You’re my brother, my best friend. You protected me when Mom didn’t give a shit. Stop this, brother.”
“NO!” Aro screamed, fumbling with his lighter and it fell onto the ground, igniting the chemicals around Peter’s corpse. Aro took a clumsy step back, away from the flames. Despite his actions, starting fires, he was terrified of the flames. He scurried toward the women, holding the gun. The condo quickly filled with smoke and the fire alarms went off.
“Brother, I forgive you, but I can’t stay here and watch this,” Marcus said, standing between the two women and the fire.
“I’m doing this for you, Marcus. I need you to stay,” Aro sneered, leveling the gun. “You will stay.”
The door was kicked open and a tall man with bronze hair and a turnout coat burst through. Charlie Swan came in afterward, dressed similarly. Aro’s plan was not fully in place. All the pieces were in play. “Like a moth to a flame …”
The drive to The Stockyards seemed to take forever. Charlie was in no shape to drive. He was an anxious mess. Edward sped through the streets of Seattle to get to the condo complex. People were not moving over as the Battalion Chief’s SUV siren blared, and lights flashed. Edward laid on the horn, screaming in frustration at the stupidity of people.
Didn’t they know that they needed to move over to the right for emergency vehicles?
Arriving at The Stockyards, Edward parked the SUV haphazardly. Both he and Charlie threw on a turnout coat and picked up helmets from the back of the SUV. They didn’t have full gear. Pants and oxygen masks were not inside. They didn’t think to grab them when they flew out of the station.
All that mattered was getting to Bella and Renee.
“Do you think we should take the elevators?” Edward asked.
“I don’t want to risk it,” Charlie frowned. He pushed into the lobby and they ran to the stairwell. The fire alarms were going off and there were people running down the steps. “Where’s the fire? What floor?”
“Penthouse,” coughed one person.
“No, not there,” said someone else. “I live on the penthouse level and the air was clear. It was around the tenth floor.”
“Thank you,” Charlie said, pushing past them and he began running up the steps, taking two at a time. As they ran up the steps, the air grew thicker and smokier. When they hit the eighth floor, they could barely see inches in front of their faces. They checked the hallway, seeing if they saw flames.
Once they reached the tenth floor, the smoke was noxious and the sounds of flames licking the walls was deafening. Edward really wished for an oxygen mask and a full set of gear. Charlie was probably wishing for the same. They both were coughing, but they couldn’t stop now.
Bella and Renee … they needed them.
Despite the heavy smoke, they found the condo. Charlie felt the doorknob, checking to see if the fire had spread to the entrance. It was warm, but not overly hot. He looked at the man who’d fallen for his daughter, sharing a look. They were in this … together.
As soon as Edward burst through the door, kicking it open, with Charlie on his heels, he began frantically searching through the fire and smoke for Bella. The condo was filled with so much smoke. It made it so difficult to see inside. Was she alive? Was she dead? He had to find her. He needed to find her. He couldn’t live his life without her.
His heart was racing so hard, each beat thumping in a dangerous, erratic rhythm in his ears and against his ribcage. His eyes swept over the scalding depths of the fire that was inching closer to a lifeless form on the floor. For a split second, his heart stopped as his mind raced with the possibility that it could be Bella. Looking a little more closely, the body on the floor was too tall, too big, too masculine to be Bella. Shaking his head, he forced himself to look away from the body and survey more of the room.
His eyes began to burn and tear up from the smoke. Yet, he had years of experience running into burning buildings where he was unable to see. He fought through the pain in his eyes and the heaviness in his chest. He had to find Bella, find Renee. Blinking once more, he opened his eyes and saw his love.
She was alive. She was tied to a chair and her head was lolling off to the side at an awkward angle. He could hear her moan quietly through the raging inferno. Even through the ever-thickening smoke, he could see that she had blood on the side of her face, dripping down onto her soot-covered clothes.
Damn it. That asshole had hurt her. He was going to pay for that.
“BELLA!” Edward yelled as he took a step toward her but was abruptly stopped by the mad man placing a gun to her temple.
He harshly pulled her head back, making her whimper in anguish. “Oh no, lover boy,” Aro growled, pushing the gun even closer into Bella’s temple. Tears tracked down her cheeks as she tried to move away. Aro just held her tighter, jamming the gun against her skin.
“Let them go and take me instead,” Charlie said, holding his hands up. He had to defuse the situation. Bella and Renee did not deserve this. They were innocent pawns in this asshole’s fucked up game of chess.
Aro shook his head as he looked at the man who had killed his brother. He looked crazed as he yelled, “Marcus, look, brother! We have him. Finally, after all these years, we will have our revenge. I killed one of his daughters, making her feel the pain and agony that you, my only brother, felt.”
“Who is he talking to?” Edward asked.
“I have no fucking clue,” Charlie said. “He’s obviously not rooted in reality at the moment. It could work to our advantage.”
“Or explode in our face,” Edward muttered, blinking to the flammable materials in the center of the condo.
Aro continued his maddening rant, gripping Bella’s hair and pushing the gun into her face. She was sobbing openly as Aro screamed, “I watched from my vantage point as a fireman rushed into her apartment, ruining my plans for her to feel the pain as the flesh burned from her body. Instead, she fell out of a window and that fucking hero grabbed onto her arm, saving her from being burnt to a crisp, like Marcus. Like my baby brother!” He laughed darkly, almost gleefully, “However, I had a backup plan and threw a switch to ignite a chemical bomb.” He stopped, his chuckles growing more crazed, manic. “That god-damned fucking hero had no way of holding her after that and she fell. His precious daughter fell, screaming as gravity did its job. She got off too easy, dying when she landed on the concrete, every bone breaking. God, that crunching sound she made when she fell was so satisfying to hear. But, this one,” Aro wrenched Bella’s hair back, making her call out in pain, “will not be as lucky and neither will your wife. I should have brought marshmallows to roast over their bodies.”
Edward looked over at Charlie with a bewildered look. This man was on a one-way train to crazy town. He had a first-class ticket. Ever so slightly, Charlie shook his head at him. They needed to wait. If they moved too quickly, either Bella or Renee would be injured more seriously.
Suddenly Aro began looking around. He was searching in the smoke. He needed to see his brother. Marcus was the sole reason why he was doing this. He needed to see him exact revenge on Charlie Swan, the man responsible for his fucking murder. “Marcus? Marcus! Where are you?” Aro asked, his voice becoming frantic. “Brother, come back and watch as I finish taking the rest of the Swan family out. Vengeance will be mine! They will pay for taking my only family away from me.”
Charlie had been worried before. Now, he was terrified, down to his soul. Aro was talking to his imaginary dead brother, which meant that he had broken entirely from reality. He was completely unhinged, living in perpetual darkness and it was catching up to him. He had orchestrated the fire at Angela’s apartment, causing her death. He’d done all of this. All to avenge his brother’s death. A death that was truly an accident. There was no evidence of foul play. Just a horrific, awful, and tragic accident. “Aro, you don’t have to do this,” Charlie said soothingly, his voice growing raspy. “We can help you. Just let them go. Please?”
“Yes, I do. I have to do this, and you will pay for what you did to me, Charlie. Do you recognize this location?” Aro questioned, waving his gun around wildly, gesturing to the high-end condos that had been built on the location where his apartment had burnt down.
“No,” Charlie answered. “Not in this state, but I remembered what happened here, Aro. It was an accident.”
Aro released his hold on Bella. He stood up, pulling the hood off his head and took a step closer to Charlie, showing him his burned, disfigured face. The face that he had to live with since waking up from the medically induced coma. “THIS IS WHAT YOU DID!” Aro roared. “I can’t walk out in public without people staring at me. I’m a monster! A freak! I can’t see! I can’t hear and I lost EVERYTHING! What’s worse is that because of your negligence, I lost my brother! He didn’t deserve to die. He was smart. He had a future … a future that was snuffed out. Because. Of. You.”
Edward kept a close eye on Aro. The fire was inching its way closer to the containers, which were filled with flammable products. If they didn’t get out of there … he couldn’t even imagine it. He knew he had to get to Bella and Renee because no one would survive in the apartment when the fire reached those containers. The explosion would take out the entire floor.
When Aro finally stepped away from Bella, his attention centered on Charlie, Edward knew the opening he had been waiting for had come. Rushing forward, he ran into Aro and reached for the gun, but Aro pulled the trigger, and the gun went off. Edward grunted, afraid that the bullet had hit him. He was also terrified that the gun had hit either Bella, Charlie, or Renee.
That didn’t matter. He had to wrestle the gun away from Aro. They fought and spun toward the window. For a man who was covered in scars and moved so feebly, he was strong. Edward managed to pull the gun away, kicking it into the smoke. However, in the struggle, Aro had been pushed against the window. The glass had splintered underneath his weight. Aro rushed against Edward, who was panting in front of the window. With a twist of his body, Edward pushed Aro out of the way and he went through the glass.
He looked out the window, assuming that Aro had fallen to his death. Good riddance. “Did anyone get hit?” Edward asked as he looked back to Bella, Renee, and Charlie. He walked toward them.
“No,” Bella and Renee cried.
“I’m fine, Edward. Get them untied and out of here,” Charlie commanded as he went towards the window. Edward may have thought that Aro was gone, but Charlie thought otherwise. Aro was like a cockroach … he’d never die without a fight. He also didn’t hear any screams.
Following Charlie’s orders, Edward ran over to Bella and reached down to pull the tape from her arms. “Untie …. my mom … first,” Bella choked out, coughing violently. The coughs were deep in her chest and she knew she was suffering from smoke inhalation.
“No, baby, let me get you out of here,” Edward pleaded, pulling out his pocket knife.
“She’s … closer to the fire,” Bella rasped, gripping to Edward’s arms as best she could. She continued to cough deeply.
Despite his need to protect her, Edward stood and placed a kiss on her forehead. “You are one stubborn woman and I fucking love you so much.”
“I love you, too,” she breathed.
Rushing over to Renee, Edward took out his pocket knife and cut the tape from her hands and feet. He checked her, to see if she had any injuries. He didn’t see anything on Renee except soot on her face and some bruises on her knuckles. Renee had fought Aro.
“Thank you,” Renee whispered, standing up on unsteady feet. She gave him a hug. “Help Bella and Charlie.”
“Go to the door. Get out of here, Renee,” Edward commanded. He looked towards the window where Aro had fallen through and saw Charlie leaning out the window, but didn’t appear to be in danger. Knowing that Charlie was okay for the moment, he went back to Bella and cut the tape from her feet. When he began to cut the tape from her hands, she called out in pain.
“Baby, are you hurt?” he questioned, looking into her eyes.
“Wrist … broken,” she rasped. “He … was enraged …”
“He was fucked up, Bella,” Edward said, cradling her wrist gently. “Can you stand?”
She nodded. He helped her to her feet and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. The fire intensified and the crackling grew ominous. A large wooden beam fell to the floor, completely engulfed in fire. It landed on top of the body. It also caused the fire to get closer to the containers. Get out of here. Ask questions later. However, he had to know who was underneath the beam. “Do you know who that was?” Edward asked.
“Peter,” Bella murmured, her throat and lungs burning from the smoke.
“Peter? From the fire department?” Edward wondered, shocked that a fellow firefighter would be working with an arsonist. He wanted to know more. Bella’s persistent, deep cough brought him back to the present. He needed to get her and Renee out of here. They both needed medical attention. Standing up, he took off his turnout coat and placed it around Bella’s shoulders. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Dad,” she hissed, looking toward her father. “He’s still at the window.”
As Edward turned back to Charlie, he saw that the fire was moments away from the containers. “CHARLIE, WE HAVE TO LEAVE NOW!” Edward yelled as he wrapped his arm around Bella, leading her to the door where Renee was waiting. He could hear the sirens blaring as they neared the apartment complex. “LET’S GO, CHIEF!”
Help, thankfully, was on the way.
Charlie hadn’t even given a second thought when he ran to the window. When he looked out, he saw that Aro was holding onto the ledge with one hand, his knuckles white with strain as he tried to maintain his hold. Reaching down, he grabbed Aro’s arm and tried to pull him up.
However, Aro struggled, twisting his body, pulling hard on his arm. He didn’t want Charlie’s help. The only thing he wanted was revenge. Maybe he could bring Charlie down with him. It would not be the same, but it was better than nothing.
Then, Charlie felt his shoulder pop out of socket and a surge of pain radiated through his arm and across his chest, taking his breath away. “Give me your other hand,” Charlie called out, holding out his other hand. “Let me help you. You don’t have to die.”
Aro looked up at Charlie and let out an eerie laugh, his one eye glazed over and distant. “I don’t want your help. You were there the night my brother died. You let him die. You watched him die …”
“I found him after he was gone, Aro,” Charlie argued. “He never stood a chance. You do. You can get over this. Please!”
“No! I cannot get over this. You cannot get over this. Now, you can watch me die,” he snarled. “Live with the fucking guilt.” Aro pulled hard once again, breaking free from Charlie’s grip.
With a yell of pain, Charlie braced himself as he watched as Aro fell through the smoke and fire from the condo. As he watched that monster fall to his death, he didn’t feel one ounce of guilt, only relief. His family was finally safe from his insanity.
Turning away from the window, he saw that the path to the door was now blanketed in flames. There was also a large beam that engulfed the entire space. That was the least of his worries. The fire was inching closer to the containers. They all needed to get out of there.
“Damn it,” he hissed. Reaching up with his one good arm, he pulled his turnout coat as far up on his neck and head as it would go. Leaning out the window to try to get some clean air to fill his lungs, he took a deep breath, turned, and took off running through the flames. He could feel the heat as it began to beat down on him, yet he pushed harder, running faster until he emerged on the other side at the doorway. Once out of the condo, Charlie coughed and pulled the door shut behind him.
“Charlie,” Renee cried, relieved that he had made it through. She threw her arms around his neck, crying into his shoulder. He used his good arm to hold his wife’s body closer to his. “I thought I lost you.”
“It’ll take a lot more than this to get rid of me,” Charlie quipped, trying to guide his wife away from the fire in the condo. The chemicals were still inside and still posed a very clear and real danger. “Come on.”
Edward watched Charlie. He was thankful that he had made it through the fire. Though he wasn’t unscathed. By the way his right arm was hanging, he knew he must have injured it while trying to save Aro. “Are you okay?”
“For the most part. Let’s get out of here. This place is about to go up into a fireball,” Charlie commanded, throwing his good arm around Renee’s shoulders, protecting her with his turnout coat. He couldn’t take it off because of his shoulder injury.
They rushed down the hallway and to the stairwell. Moving as fast as they could, they descended the stairs. All of them were breathing heavily and coughing from the heavy smoke they’d inhaled. Finally arriving on the ground floor, Edward pushed the door open, and they were met by Rose and the firemen from Firehouse #34.
“Oh my God! I’ve been so worried,” Rose cried, hugging her partner. She turned to her chief and did the same. “Are you okay?”
“We all have to get out of this building. There is a shit load of flammables up there and the fire will be getting to them at any second,” Charlie ordered, his voice scratchy.
The lieutenant who was next to Rose picked up his megaphone and called out that it was an unsecured scene. Everyone needed to evacuate immediately. The bystanders were pushed away from the complex to a safe distance, across the street. The other firemen surrounded Charlie, Renee, Bella, and Edward and helped them out of the building. Once they were outside, they were taken immediately to the medical team to get assessed by paramedics and EMTs. All of them were put on oxygen immediately. Bella and Renee were taken to one ambulance while Edward and Charlie were led to two other rigs.
In one ambulance, Edward was being checked out by a petite, blonde paramedic. He was squirming as she tried to check his vitals. “I don’t need to go to the hospital,” Edward grumbled.
“Your pulse-ox status is too low,” the medic explained. “You should be intubated. Stop moving and let me help you!”
Edward had to get out of this rig and find Bella. He had to know that she was okay. “Look,” Edward began, looking down at the medic’s name tag, “Jane. If you give me a portable oxygen tank, I promise to keep it with me, with the mask on my face. I have to go and be with Bella, the younger woman who came out with me. She needs me, please. Fuck, I need her. I need to know she’s okay!”
Jane looked into his pleading eyes and wished that she had a man who would love her as much as this man loved the woman he was trying to get to. Even though she should say no, her heart overruled her rational mind. “Fine, but if I see you removing the mask, your ass will be back in this rig, strapped to the gurney. I will use a paralytic if I need to, Lieutenant.”
“Thank you,” he said as Jane set him up with an oxygen mask. She also checked out his other injuries. He would have to go to the hospital for smoke inhalation, but his nasal passages were not singed, meaning that his lungs were not burnt.
After Edward was placed on a portable oxygen tank and a mask, he quickly went over to the ambulance where Bella was sitting. It was across the street, at a safer distance than the rig he was in. When he looked up into the rig, his heart broke into a million pieces. She looked so frail and broken. “Bella,” he called out. He lifted the oxygen tank into the rig, sitting down to her. “Oh, my Bella.”
She looked at him, her eyes glazed over and weary. She had an oxygen mask over mouth and nose. Her skin was covered in dark ash, and it contrasted against her overly pale complexion. Her wrist was strapped to her chest. “I’m okay,” she said, her voice muffled by the mask. “Or, I will be.”
“I could have lost you,” Edward said, picking up her good hand. He cupped her cheek and pressed his forehead to hers. Their masks didn’t allow them to get as close as they wanted to. “What happened?”
“I’ll tell you later,” she said exhaustedly. “I’m just happy that I’m safe. We’re safe.”
“You know I’m going to hover for the foreseeable future, right?” he quipped, pulling down his mask so he could kiss her forehead.
“I’ll gladly let you hover,” Bella breathed, putting her head on his broad shoulders. She shivered underneath his turnout coat and warming blankets. She was in shock. He gently picked her up, sitting her on his lap. She cuddled closer, gripping his shirt with her hand. “Is it really over?”
“I think so,” Edward murmured soothingly, holding close to his body. He could feel her body tremble. “Bella, I was never so afraid.”
“Me, too,” she sniffled. “I wanted to run and leave, but we couldn’t. With Aro and Peter …”
“Lieutenant Cullen, you know better,” Rose chided as she leaned against the door of the ambulance. “Both of you should be on gurneys.”
“We should, but I don’t know where her EMT is and she was going into shock,” Edward argued. “Fuck, so am I, Rose. Lay off, will you?”
“I’m just kidding,” she said. “The chief said that there were flammables up there?”
“Yeah, he had a bunch of cleaning solutions,” Bella croaked, moving closer to Edward, almost trying to get into his body. She needed to feel him, feel his protection, his safety. “I know that those materials are highly flammable. It would turn into a chemical bomb … I’m surprised it hasn’t blown up yet.”
“The company is trying to put it out, but since the building is so new, it’s not fully up to code,” Rose frowned. “The water supply on the floor where you were found had not been connected yet. It’s why that floor was not ready for occupancy where the others were. Suppressing the fire will be a challenge.”
There was a large boom, causing the ambulance to rock and Bella to gasp in fear, burying her face in Edward’s chest. Rose held up her walkie, frantically asking for information about the source of that blast. Edward tried to make sense of the garbled nonsense that he’d heard, but he knew that the chemicals in the condo had exploded. However, his concern was for his fellow firefighters.
Were any of them injured in the explosion?
Charlie appeared at the door of the ambulance, his face dirty and filled with anger. “Good riddance to bad rubbish,” Charlie muttered. “That asshole got what he deserved … to burn in hell.”
“Was he inside?” Bella asked. That’s when she noticed her father’s arm strapped in a sling. “Daddy?”
“He didn’t want to be saved. I tried, but he fell to his death,” Charlie explained. “He damn near pulled my arm from my body, but he’s gone.”
“Are you certain?” Bella pressed.
“He fell ten floors,” Charlie said. “Also, some of the guys saw him go down. Nearly every bone in his burnt-out body was shattered from the fall. He also landed on some rebar, severing his brain stem. You can’t get much deader than that.”
“No, you can’t,” Bella mumbled.
“You are all the most stubborn humans ever,” Jane grumbled. “Chief, back to your ambulance. Your wife was loaded up with you. You’re being transported to Virginia Mason.”
“What about us?” Edward asked.
“So are you,” Jane said. “I take it you’re not leaving this rig?”
“Nope,” Edward answered, tightening his hold on Bella.
“Fine. But, she needs to be put back on the gurney. Chief, let’s go,” Jane said, helping Charlie. They scuttled away.
Edward sighed as the EMT came back with a smirk, moving Bella back to the gurney. The doors were closed, and the ambulance lurched away.
Bella pulled the mask away, her eyes filled with tears. She coughed. “Is it bad that I’m relieved that Aro is dead?”
“No, it’s not,” Edward said, putting the mask over her face. “I’m relieved, too. He’d wreaked so much havoc on your lives, Bella.”
“He kept saying this one thing … ‘like a moth to a flame,’” she whispered. “Moths keep flying to the flame, even if it results in their own death. It’s poetic. Aro was the moth. It was his obsession with the flames that ended his life.”
“It’s poetic justice, Bella,” Edward breathed. “He got what he deserved.”
A/N: Ding, dong the maniac’s dead! Can we get a whoomp? Whoomp? Apologies … Aro was on the train to crazy town. Hopefully, he found some solace in his death.
Not many pictures for this chapter, unfortunately. You can see the previous pictures on my blog. You can access that through a link in my profile. You can also see pictures on Clo’s blog, as well. If you come to either of our FB groups, you can access her blog. My FB is Tufano79’s Twilight Fanfiction Appreciation and Clo’s FB is HeartForTwilight Productions.
We’re so close to the end, folks.
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Lots of love,
Tufano79 & HeartforTwilight