DISCLAIMER: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I’m here having fun.
Chapter 24: The Return Home
“Miss Swan, you have a phone call.”
“Oh, thank God, Bella. How are you?”
“Uh, I’m exhausted, but glad to be here—wherever that is.” I wave my hand around, even though he can’t see it. “Europe is as specific as anyone will get, but I know we were in Greece or close to it when they caught up with us. We’re getting ready to board a plane for Germany.”
“Of course, you do.”
“I’m getting ready to get on a plane myself. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Dad, I’m fine—”
“Bella, don’t object. I need to see you in person.”
“Hello, Mr. President.”
“Hey, none of that. It’s good to hear your voice.”
“Thanks, Harry, and I understand you’re the reason we are here.”
“It was an easy decision, Bella.”
“What will happen to them? K and S? Z didn’t make it, did she?”
“Zafrina Dias died during your rescue, and her sisters, Kachiri and Senna, will be sent back to Berlin. Our State Department is working with the Germans since that was the location of your and Miss Hale’s kidnappings. They will be prosecuted for illegally capturing and detaining two U.S. citizens.”
“Rose and I gave our statements. They were recorded on video.”
“I understand, but you will be asked many of the same questions after you arrive in Germany, and may remember more over the next few days when you are in a less stressful environment and given a chance to rest. If you recall anything new, do not hesitate to tell them. We want to build the strongest case possible for you and Miss Hale.”
“Okay. Thanks, Harry.”
“Is everyone taking good care of you?”
“Yes, they are. We met with the doctor, then we were able to eat a small meal and clean up. I have to say I appreciate the change of clothes, but camouflage isn’t my color.”
“I would imagine it isn’t.” Harry lets out a hearty laugh, then his voice softens. “Sue and everyone here at the White House are overjoyed you are safe. It has been a very stressful time for all of us. Your father has already left for his flight and is eager to see you.”
“Thanks. Please tell everyone I said hello and I look forward to talking with them over the next few days once I’m back home.”
“We’ll look forward to seeing you then. D.C. isn’t the same without you.”
“You’re coming back to D.C. with your father, correct?”
“Uh, no. I’m going home to Berlin. I still have a job to do, and I may need to return to Greece soon on another matter.”
“I’m not sure that’s a wise decision. You’re safe now, but—”
“But it’s my decision, right?” I defend, and somehow hold back a biting comment about his daughter and her rights and decisions. I may not be in D.C., but I haven’t forgotten his methods for getting what he wants when it comes to family. I told Jacob I wouldn’t interfere, and I intend to keep that promise, but I’m struggling not to fire back with what I know.
“Of course, it is. You should consider making a statement while your dad is there with you. I’ll have Jacob write something up for you to read. We weren’t the only ones searching for you.”
“But what I said was true, even if it was under duress and they weren’t my words.” I’m also hurt he’s discounting my abilities as a journalist by suggesting I can’t handle writing a statement by myself. “I don’t need Jacob to tell me what to say.”
“It wouldn’t hurt to have his input. This is an international matter, and he has been monitoring the situation from our side since the beginning.”
I expel an exaggerated huff. “Fine. I’ll talk with Jacob.”
“Bella, I understand you have been under a lot of stress. You should take some time off. Don’t go out in public unless necessary and never alone. I would recommend staying out of sight for a while.”
“Harry, I wasn’t alone when I was taken. You should know that I couldn’t live like that—hiding and afraid of my shadow. That’s what they want—to silence me. Dad didn’t raise me to be a coward, and I’m not about to start now. Despite what has happened over the past months, Rose and I coped. We did what was asked of us, and trust me, when we didn’t, they made sure we got the message and we didn’t repeat our mistakes. Rose and I survived this, Harry, and there are a lot of others out there who have it much worse than us. I have to help them. People need to hear their voices.”
It sounds like he isn’t alone when I hear muffled voices from his end, but I can’t tell who it is.
“Bella, we’ll talk about this more later. I’ve got to go.”
“Okay. Thanks for the call and your help.”
“Sure thing, Bella. And think about what I said.”
“I will.” The line goes dead as I mull over his words.
Rose pops her head into the doorway of the office, giving me a brief smile. “The plane is ready and they’re waiting for us.”
My small smile grows almost instantly. “Let’s go home.”
We exit the plane and are greeted by various people I will never remember, but one standing near the back of the crowd gets my attention. Her expression is careful and controlled, but when she spies me getting closer, her smirk grows.
I’m thrilled to see her and look on when she hugs Rose first.
“Velcome home, Roze.”
“Thanks, Hilda. It’s great to be back.”
“Right this way, Miss Hale.” Another uniformed man encourages Rose to move farther ahead of me.
Hilda shifts, blocking my path. “Bella.”
I watch in confusion as Rose is guided away to a nearby car. “Aren’t we leaving together?”
“You’re coming vith me. Ve thought this vould be best.”
I panic momentarily at being separated from Rose, but quickly bury the blooming emotions inside of me and nod as Hilda takes my hand, guiding me toward her car I recognize immediately. I slide into the passenger seat, but flinch backwards when she moves suddenly to help me with the seat belt.
“Sorry.” My face flushes with embarrassment at not being more at ease with Hilda’s touch or movements as I was months ago.
“I understand, Bella.”
“No, it’s—fuck. I’m sorry. It’s my fault,” I apologize nervously, taking responsibility for my surprising reactions.
I didn’t expect this—to be on edge once I got here. I thought I would feel relief, but I’m jittery while fidgeting with everything in my reach.
With Hilda behind the wheel, we leave the military base with little fanfare, and I’m thrilled to see it fading in my side mirror as we escape into the evening traffic. It’s overwhelming being back in Berlin, but I’m at a loss for what to say, as everything familiar passes by my window in a blur until we pull into an underground garage I don’t recognize and my internal panic builds once more.
“Why aren’t we at the apartment?” I question nervously.
She shakes her head. “It’s being vatched. I found a bug. There could be more.”
I sag into the leather seat at the information she shares. “Someone was—is listening.”
Hilda points toward a set of elevator doors ready to distract me from our new reality. “You’ll like this. I brought your things.”
I look around, not seeing any signs to show the name of the building. “Where are we?”
“She vill be here zoon. Her own room. Let’s go upstairs.”
The elevator takes us up to our floor where Hilda produces a key and ushers me inside the room that is more than I can comprehend after going without during these past months. It’s a suite with a living room, dining area, and a door that probably leads to the bedroom.
The main door closes behind me, and involuntarily, I jump at its sound. I’m about to move farther into the room when Hilda stops me, grabbing my arm and moving in closer for a kiss.
I yank away my arm without thinking, then realize my mistake instantly. “Shit. I’m sorry. I did it again. I’m just—fuck. I don’t know… I’m sorry.”
Her face is a mix of hurt and confusion. “I can leave, if you vant to be alone.”
“No! That’s not what I want. Not from you. I don’t want to be alone. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Please don’t leave. Will you try again? I promise, I won’t move away this time. Please.”
Hilda watches me carefully as her hands find my waist, drawing me closer gently, waiting for my reaction. At my nod, she leans in, this time successfully pecking my lips, pulling away to check my response. “Okay?”
I sigh in relief at the normalcy of such a small, intimate gesture. It feels right to be here with her as she welcomes me back into her arms. I return her hug, wrapping my arms around her shoulders. “Yes. Don’t stop.”
“Oh, Bella.” She whispers in my ear as her timid lips find mine once more and my fingers slide in her hair, wanting to encourage her movements and prevent any hesitation on her part.
My heart speeds up as our lips reunite over and over until I’m panting for breath. Hilda releases my mouth, exploring along my jaw and nibbling down my neck.
“Hilda.” I moan when I feel the suction of her mouth leaving a mark.
I guide her head until our lips come together again as our cautious hands reconnect with remembered curves. Areas full of need spark to life a level of desire, which lay dormant and hidden while we were apart.
Her desperate tongue pushes past my lips in a rush, tangling with mine, tasting and probing, until she pulls away and pecks my lips, slowing her assault.
“I’m zorry.” She gasps. “Bella, ve have to stop.”
“No, I need you,” I plead, holding her tighter and anxious to pick back up where we left off.
“Mmmm, later. ” Her forehead rests against mine as we catch our breath. “I mizzed you, but you aren’t ready for more. Ve need to talk. How about… how about a shower or bath? Or changing into your own clothes?”
“We took quick showers before we left, but I would love to soak in the tub for a while. My own clothes sound like a great idea. Thank you for bringing them.”
“Ja. You’re velcome. Zoaking is good. You need to eat. I’ll call room zervice.”
She opens the suitcase she brought with us, and I look over the contents, grabbing a pair of underwear and a T-shirt.
“I’m going to start the bath water.”
“Okay.” She smiles, picking up the phone receiver.
I walk into the bathroom, passing the glass-enclosed shower, but pause at the marble sink, taking in the woman’s reflection staring back at me. My fingers lightly touch the area of my neck as I catch sight of the new mark Hilda left and carefully trace the reddish area. While I’m fine with it, I know my clothes conceal old marks, which have yet to heal completely and I’m nervous about seeing what’s still there or Hilda seeing them too.
The woman in the mirror looks smaller than I remember, but it’s the yellowing on her right cheekbone that gets my attention. I recall Rosalie’s gasp when it happened, then her insistence it was barely noticeable when it was a nasty bluish green.
Grabbing the hem of the T-shirt I’m wearing, I pull it off in one swoop and stare at the wild long hair of the woman watching me closely. My finger touches the slight natural wave and I notice its dull color, which is a far cry from the shiny, bouncy hair I remember.
I turn around, looking over my shoulder, then my eyes drift lower where I see, for the first time, the dark purplish bruises and scabbed areas cut from the buckle of K’s belt. I release a shaky breath as my eyes fill with tears. I couldn’t lie down on my back for a week after that beating happened.
K claimed she saw me pass a note to a man at a local café where we stopped for a break, but it was actually the opposite—he was flirting from a distance until he pushed a piece of paper in my hand with his number. She only saw the part where I begged him to take it back and leave us alone.
A sob escapes my chest as gentle arms wrap me in a hug. “It’s okay, Bella. You’re zafe now.”
I can’t remember the last time I cried, but standing here in the bathroom it all comes pouring out in a rush. The hurt and anger. The struggles and resignation. Every emotion I’ve tried to suppress over the past months bubbles to the surface and I feel it all at once.
“Let it out,” Hilda whispers, stroking my back in gentle passes.
I’m positive she sees the marks reflected in the mirror, but she doesn’t say a word about them—only affirmations of love and comfort come from her lips.
“You’re strong and beautiful, Bella.”
“I’m sorry. I feel very weak and beat—not the woman you knew. I don’t know why I can’t keep it together now.”
“Pleaze stop apologizing.”
“There were days when I thought I was doing everything right, but—”
“I know. It didn’t matter.”
“Am I ever going to feel safe to do my job again? Will I always be looking over my shoulder? I feel like a failure. I had no control over anything.”
“You’re not. I’m zorry. I promized to keep you zafe that night and I failed.”
“You were shot. Oh God, Hilda. I remember. I didn’t at first. Where were you hurt?”
Hilda pulls away slightly. “I vas shot in the leg, but it’s better now. The bullet vent in the muscle. Nein big deal. I have a scar.”
“Not a big deal? You getting hurt is a very big deal to me.”
“Stop vorrying, Bella. I’m fine. I’ll show you the scar after your bath.”
I nod, brushing away my remaining tears, and focus on my original plan. “Right—a bath. I got sidetracked since I haven’t had much access to a mirror, and when I did, I always avoided my reflection, scared of what I would see after a few times of making that mistake. I didn’t want those images to haunt me too.”
“Oh, Bella. I’m zorry.” She leaves a kiss on my forehead, then turns to fill the tub, sprinkling items in the water from the glass containers on the nearby ledge full of salts and dried flowers.
I point toward my head. “I’m more than a little fucked up right now. I guess it will take time to process.”
“It vill, and ve can talk more. Vould you like a glass of vine?”
“Uh, I don’t know. They-they drugged us at first, which was… difficult. When we were rescued, we met with a doctor on the base and he gave us some sleeping pills. I guess, I mean, I don’t want to take them, but I’m not sure yet if I will need them or if I should mix them with alcohol—fuck. I don’t know what to do about anything and a glass of wine should be an easy decision. It’s been a long time since I’ve slept more than an hour or two without forced sedation. I know I’m going to drive you crazy.”
“You von’t. I’m happy to have you back. I think it’s ready. Do you need help?” She waves toward my remaining clothes as I’m only wearing my bra, but fully dressed from the waist down.
“I’m okay. I can do it.” I heel off my shoes, tug away my socks, then unbutton my pants, shoving them down my legs and stepping out as there is a loud knock on our door.
Hilda must see the panic in my eyes immediately and explains, “I’m zure it’s room zervice. Go ahead and get in the tub. I’ll take care of them.”
She exits the bathroom, closing the door behind her, and I listen for voices. I hear Hilda and a man’s voice, then after a couple of deep breaths, shed my bra and underwear. I ease into the warm water as the tub continues to fill. Groaning in relief, I readjust the knobs to pour less cold and as much hot water as I can stand. It feels heavenly.
With the tub almost full, I turn off the water and smile at the first moment I’ve had alone in a long time. I know Hilda is out in the main room, but it’s nice to be alone without really being alone. I adjust a towel behind my head and sink deeper into the water, then close my eyes as a peaceful feeling finally takes over and my brain follows my body, relaxing in the warm comfort.
“We woke up and, well, no, we didn’t wake up. I guess the drugs were wearing off, and I was disoriented. I thought we were home and in bed together.” I snuggle farther under the puffy covers of the king-sized bed as I recount details for Hilda.
“You and me?”
“Yes, and while I was feeling the effects of the hangover, I wanted to wake you up, but everything was all wrong. It was so dark, and things weren’t right. It was the little things. When I went to kiss you, I only reached your neck and when I… when I squeezed your breast, it was fuller—different and missing a bra.”
Hilda chuckles as if she knows what’s next.
“We were kissing, and it was taking longer than normal to rouse you. I kept going until you were finally responding to my lips and touch, but I realized something was off—your piercing was missing.”
“Yeah. I’m two fingers deep, rubbing you with my thumb when I hear you moan, but it isn’t your voice. It’s Rose, and she’s into it, but I freeze.”
“Poor Rozalie. You are zuch a teaze.”
“Hilda!” I hit her playfully with my pillow. “She didn’t know it was me, and I doubt she wanted it to be me.”
“Still, you should have helped her out. You left her hanging. I taught you better than that.” She grins, teasing me.
“Trust me; it was a bucket of cold water on both of us when we figured everything out.”
There’s a knock on the door of our room, and Hilda, who is fully dressed and lying on top of the layers of bedding, volunteers to see who it is when I refuse to leave my nest of heaven. The sheets are so silky that after the bath, wine, and a few nibbles of food, I’m considering shedding my T-shirt and underwear to get the full effect against my skin. My cocoon of happiness is one I plan to enjoy for as long as possible.
Hilda returns with an unexpected guest, but to be honest, I’m not surprised in the least.
Rosalie’s red-rimmed eyes give her away instantly. “Hey. I’m not doing so good.”
I pull back the covers, offering her the spot next to me since I’m camped out in the middle of the bed. “Come on. You can stay here.”
“I’m sorry. I sent Siobhan and Maggie home, which was probably a mistake.”
“It’s okay. Get in here.” I wrap an arm around her shoulders as she settles into the spot, snuggling into my side. “Did you take a sleeping pill?”
“No. I flushed them.” She sighs.
I nod in understanding. We are both a little leery about drugs, but I’m hoping that feeling won’t last for long and we’re back to our normal selves. “How about a glass of wine? It has helped soften my edges.”
“Okay. I don’t think I can be alone. I’m sorry. Every bump or noise—”
“I know. You can stay here. We’ll move your stuff tomorrow.” I wave toward her legs. “Maybe you should lose the pants. You’ll be more comfortable.”
“Here.” Hilda sets a glass of wine on the table next to Rose then comes back around the bed, climbing in next to me.
“You should lose the pants too,” I suggest.
“I’ve not only forgone my pants, but I’m also considering changing into my birthday suit.” I grin.
Rosalie lets out a small gasp at my comment, and Hilda’s smirk disappears as realization slowly infiltrates my brain.
“Fuck. Apparently, I’m an idiot who shouldn’t be joking about birthdays or anything to do with my birthday.”
We sit in awkward silence as Hilda and I stare at the ceiling while Rosalie sips on her glass of wine.
I can’t let it go as my rambling starts again. “It’s just unfortunate. I’ve had twenty-nine birthdays and not kidnapped on a single one. I mean they weren’t all wonderful, but when I hit thirty—bam! It all goes to shit. I didn’t see it coming at all.”
“Hilda, what happened after we were gone?” Rosalie wonders.
“George found me. I think he thought it vas zome kind of prank that Bella vas trying to get away from him and you vere helping her.”
“Oh, God. Poor guy. He’s got it bad for you, Bella.”
I roll my eyes and huff at his supposed crush, but I know Rose is probably right.
“But then he zaw the blood and called for an ambulance. Halistair jumped into action and took over everything.”
I smile at a thought. “I bet George would like to see me in my birthday suit.”
“Bella.” Rose chuckles.
“I know. I just don’t want everyone thinking they can’t talk about that night or my birthday. I’m planning to celebrate more of them, and I don’t want this last one to taint the rest. Because some people can be weird like that and really, that’s not my brand of weird. Plus, someone promised me a birthday strap-on and it had better be over there in that suitcase. Don’t think I forgot!”
“That’s it!” Rose declares. “Hand me the wine bottle. I’m keeping it on my side of the bed.”
“Let’s change the zubject.” Hilda chuckles, clearing her throat. “You are both here to relax. Nein schedule but the spa has a zuite reserved for each afternoon you are here.”
“Ja. Treatments like mazzage or facial. You can pick vatever you vish.”
“Is that a hint I need some grooming? Not a fan of the bush?”
“I’m always a fan of you, Bella—bush included.” Hilda pecks my lips lovingly.
“Oh, God. I need more wine and ear plugs, if you two plan to continue.” Rose refills her empty glass.
“I would like to get a haircut. My dad will be here tomorrow, but I don’t know when.”
“In the evening, ve are meeting for dinner here at the hotel.”
A huge grin spreads across my face. “You will meet my dad and he’s going to love you.”
“He vill not like me, Bella.”
An uneasy feeling settles in my stomach at her hesitancy. “That’s ridiculous. Why wouldn’t he?”
“Are you planning to return to United States?”
“He vill zee me as part of the reazon.”
“Then I’ll set him straight.” Unless she doesn’t want me to set him straight.
“Ve vill be in for a treat then—dinner and a show—plenty of firevorks.”
“My dad—he isn’t like that.”
“But I know you and I vould bet you are most like him. You vill butt heads over this.”
She has a valid point, and after my conversation with Harry, I know it will not be an easy discussion for either of us. But if I’m prepared, then I can hope he will leave here feeling better about my decision to stay.
A/N: Huge thank yous to LizziePaige, Honeymoon Edward, purpleC305, and Midnight Cougar for their help with this story. xx
Bella and Rose have returned to Berlin and we know more about what happened to Hilda. Bella is trying to step back into her life before she was taken, but that’s easier said than done. Charlie is on his way too. We’ll hear from him next week.