Hiding in Plain Sight
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Bella is a witness in peril. Emmett Cullen is the deputy assigned to protect her. When the witness protection program isn't safe, Emmett hides Bella where he can keep an eye on her. He hides her in his brother's house. ExB, AU, AH
Author's Note: A very special thanks to movieandbookgirl, who patiently listened while I ironed out plot issues, and read over more than one iteration of the first chapter. A great big thank you is also owed to Debussy_This, who generously beta'ed this chapter with such verve that I couldn't resist posting.
Say you were going about your business, doing your job, and you found out something terrible about your employer.
You found out your employer killed people. More than one thousand people over the last fifteen years.
You even found some evidence to turn over to authorities, but the evidence wouldn't be conclusive without your eyewitness testimony. If you were to agree to testify against your employer, it was a certainty that your (former) employer would try to kill you. There would be no guarantees that you would survive until the trial.
What would you do? Would you testify?
Of course you would.
You wouldn't be able to sleep at night if you didn't.
And if you were to die before justice was served, at least you would die knowing you tried to do the right thing.
There are worse ways to die.
Friday, February 29, 2008
I sipped my coffee in the kitchen, waiting for Jessica to waken. It wasn't a pleasant conversation I was about to initiate, but this afternoon I was flying to Ecuador. I didn't want to come home and have it later.
After I'd read most of the Weekend Edition of the Wall Street Journal, a sleepy Jessica materialized. Her hair was mussed and she was wearing my bathrobe. Truly, it was a sight that would have been endearing last week. But last week, I hadn't known her well enough to realize I couldn't stand her.
"Good morning," I said, holding out a cup of coffee.
Jessica looked around the kitchen, confused. "Where's breakfast?"
"Have a seat, Jess."
Something in my tone must have tipped her off, because she did not take the coffee and she did not sit. Instead, she narrowed her eyes at me. "You're shitting me."
I braced myself for the words I had to say. I set her coffee cup down, a little relieved she didn't want it. It was steaming hot, and I wouldn't put it past her to throw it at me.
"Things aren't working between us, and I think it would be best if we broke it off now." My voice was even, my face was blank. I'd learned over the years that less emotion was better in times like these.
Jessica stamped her foot. "You couldn't have fucking told me this last night, before I swallowed?"
"Last night, I still thought maybe we could work it out."
"As in, you wanted to screw me one last time to make sure you didn't want me? Am I not good enough for you and your snobby family?"
I sighed. "It's not you, it's me." That was mostly true. If I hadn't been so sensitive to her social-ladder-climbing ways and her complete and utter lack of self actualization, maybe we could have made a go of it. Also, I was not overly fond of her fake boobs.
"That's shit, and you know it," Jessica snapped.
I continued on as though she hadn't spoken. "You're a girl who deserves a commitment, and I know now that I can't give it to you."
"So I'm just not good enough." Jessica glared at me. "Fine. But mark my words, Edward Cullen, the day will come when you'll be sorry you crossed me!"
Jessica stormed up the stairs, grabbed her clothes, and left immediately. She was still wearing my robe and she didn't have shoes on. She slammed the door behind her.
Good riddance, I thought, and I went upstairs to pack.
Thursday & Friday, March 13, 2008 – March 14, 2008
"As much as I would love to stay here all day, I'm going to be late for work." I extricated myself from my sexy wife's arms and tried to roll out of bed.
"Screw work." Rosalie tackled me, throwing her whole body on top of mine to stop me from rolling over. She straddled me, and her hair tickled my neck as she leaned over me to kiss me. "Come on, baby, how about some morning love?"
"You know I'm working on an important case, Rose." I would have gone on, but Rosalie's lips trailed down my chest and kept going. I couldn't take my eyes off her beautiful blond head. I was an insanely lucky man.
"I know. You've been working weekends for the last month. And I really think we need some time alone." Her tongue darted out, flicking out along my skin. When she took me in her mouth, I gave up. Fiery meteors could have been flying all around us, and I wouldn't have noticed, not as long as she kept me in her talented little mouth.
And then I heard a sound I couldn't ignore, as much as I wanted to. It was the pounding of tiny feet in the hallway.
"Is our door locked?"
Rosalie immediately removed her mouth and threw the covers over me. If that didn't answer my question, the answer came when the door flew open.
"Mommy, Emma won't stop playing with my Barbies. She's messing up their hair, make her stop!"
Rosalie was up and out of bed and into her robe in ten seconds flat. "Libby, those Barbies belong to Emma too. Why don't we go make breakfast?" She pushed Libby out of our room and closed the door behind them. I heard Libby continuing to whine about Emma as they walked down the hall.
My wife is a saint. If I had to deal with that kind of whiny shit all day, I'd jump off a cliff. I took a deep breath. I was going to work after all; no morning lovin' for me. Rose was right, though. We needed some alone time. As soon as I made sure my witness was settled in, I was going to take Rose on a nice long vacation somewhere. Maybe Isle Esme. Mom and Dad would be happy to take the girls for a couple of weeks.
I showered and dressed for work. By the time I made it into the kitchen, there was a plate with eggs, bacon and toast in front of my chair. Libby and Emma were both at the table in their booster seats, and Rose was pouring orange juice.
"Have I mentioned lately how much I love you?"
"Eat your eggs, Emmett."
"Save your appreciation for tonight." Her icy blue eyes sparkled at me. I knew that look. I was definitely going to come home on time tonight.
I polished off breakfast, kissed all my girls, and drove to work. I arrived at the office around nine. It wasn't late by any means, but I usually arrived earlier- especially considering recent events.
I flipped on my computer and checked my e-mail. Nothing critical in my in-box this morning.
"Hi Banner," I answered without looking up. I was busy reviewing the latest paperwork on Marie Swan.
Marie was the reason I'd been slammed busy at work for the last two months. I was a deputy U.S. Marshal who specialized in witness security, a.k.a. WitSec. Marie was the witness of the decade, if not the last three decades. She was going to be the lynchpin in a case to put away the Volturi, the godfathers of the modern day mob. At least, she would be the lynchpin if we could keep her alive long enough to testify.
The Volturi had killed people in almost every state in the country, so everywhere had jurisdiction. The trial was going to be held in North Carolina, a state with a long and distinguished history of carrying out the death penalty. I don't live in North Carolina, but I was assigned the witness because I'm the best there is. I have never lost a witness and I don't plan to start now.
I didn't realize, at first, how difficult it would be to protect her until the trial. Usually my job isn't all that difficult until the trial happens, but people were already trying to kill her.
Ever since she became my charge, she'd been a magnet for trouble. I'd given her the new identity following standard operating procedure, and two days later I got a desperate call from her. She was being followed. We were able to rescue her. After that, we watched her morning and night at a safe house while we set up another identity. Two weeks into her second identity, a bullet just missed her head as she walked out of her apartment building. Again, we managed to extract her, but it made me queasy. This wasn't how things were supposed to happen. My witnesses were supposed to disappear. Hell, my witnesses did disappear. I'd never seen anything quite like this.
Marie was in her third identity now. Third time's a charm, right? I'd personally scrubbed all the contacts to make sure they were clean. I took every possible precaution. I even sent her to a different jurisdiction. She was going to some little town in Nevada. If Marie could make it in Nevada for more than two weeks, maybe things would be calm down enough that Rose and I could get away.
"Hey, Banner, did you get an update on Marie in Nevada?"
Banner stuck his head in my office. "Haven't had your coffee yet, have you? Remember you signed off on Marie going to California just before you left last night."
"Who put through the paperwork?" I asked with forced casualness. I hadn't signed shit for her to go to California.
"James. He said you needed the switch ASAP; ran the paperwork through right after you left."
Fuck. Of all mornings to be late. My own goddamned office had a rat. Or many rats. No wonder her other two placements failed.
I told Banner I was going to get a coffee. As soon as I was out of the building, I called Marie. Thankfully, she answered the phone immediately. I had her ditch her contacts and go straight to a public place. I didn't dare call in police protection; too risky. There was no telling if the California office was clean either, so I didn't call for back-up. I didn't tell anyone where I was going; I just hopped a plane.
It wasn't until I was on the plane to California that I realized I needed to call Rosalie. I wasn't going to be home for dinner.
Thirty-odd hours and one hair-raising chase later, I was back in town. Against all odds, Marie was tucked away safely. Was I ready to face the wrath of Rosalie?
No, I wasn't ready.
I was living on a night without sleep and I was worried sick about Marie. This morning, as we drove back to Washington, I actually begged her not to testify. I've never had a witness I couldn't protect before. If she died… well, I really didn't want it on my conscience.
I wasn't ready to go back to the office, either. I had to have some time to think about James. Was he crooked, or was he someone else's tool? And when I found the crooked person, what was I going to do about it? I needed a drink. Or five drinks.
If I wasn't going to the office, and I wasn't going home, where was I going to go? I considered calling my little sister, but at six months pregnant she wouldn't want to watch me drink. Instead, I decided to pay a visit to my younger brother. He was a bit self-absorbed, but at least his fridge would be well-stocked with beer. And let's face it: what I really needed was a place to escape for a couple of hours.
Home at last. The trip back from Ecuador had been exhausting. We hit turbulence on the way into the airport, and even now after two hours on the ground, I was still queasy.
My cell phone vibrated in my pocket, and I almost ignored it. There was no one I wanted to talk to right now. All I wanted was some peace, some quiet, and a beer; but, curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to at least check the caller ID.
My brother was calling. Odd. He didn't usually call during business hours. I flipped my phone open to hear Emmett asking if I was home. I was. There was no way I was going back into work after that flight. He asked if my fridge had beer in it. It did. He said he'd be here in twenty minutes.
Huh. Emmett sounded stressed, but I was too jet-lagged to think about it.
He had a key, so when he knocked, I didn't bother answering the door. Sure enough, he walked right in. He sat down across from me in the living room. We sat in silence for a few minutes.
"I saw Jessica this week." Emmett said in a flat voice. "Guess you two broke up?"
I shrugged. "I realized she was shallow."
"Mom will be disappointed."
I launched into an explanation about why Jessica would have been a disaster as part of our family, but Emmett wasn't listening. "Emmett?"
"Did you hear a word I just said?"
Emmett didn't bother to glance in my direction before answering. "Mom just wants you to be happy."
"No, she wants more grandchildren."
"Well, you are late," Emmett said absently. "Rosie and I have been married six years now and have two kids to show for it. Alice is due in three months."
"Between Mom and Alice, the obsession with my personal life is out of hand." Sitting on the couch and staring at Emmett's listless face was making me more agitated rather than less. I stood up and paced over to the window and concentrated on watching the trees that lined my driveway blow in the wind.
Emmett shrugged. "Whatever."
"What's eating you?" I asked, my back to him, my eyes still fixed outside.
"Work stuff," Emmett mumbled.
I tore my eyes away from leaves fluttering in the breeze to regard Emmett closely. "You need to find a new, less stressful job. Work stuff is always getting you down. What is it this time?" I walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. I extracted a bottle of beer and expertly tossed it across the room to Emmett.
Emmett grabbed the beer out of mid-air and twisted it open in one fluid motion. It was reassuring to see that his depression about work had not slowed his reflexes. He took a quick swig. "It's confidential, you know that."
"I know the who is confidential." I took a beer out of the refrigerator for myself, a foreign one that required a bottle opener. "But surely you can extemporize a bit on the what."
Emmett shook his head at me, as if I were crazy to ask him to share. "Alright, but if I tell you, you'll just be depressed too."
"I think I can handle it."
Emmett took another long swig of beer and put his feet up on the coffee table. "You've heard of the Volturi, those three nutbags from Italy?"
"Who hasn't? They're richer than Croesus and their family has been slowly buying up Western civilization for the last several hundred years." I settled back into my leather armchair across from Emmett. His face had regained some of his native animation, and he was much more interesting now that he was going to tell me what was bothering him.
"You've also heard the rumors about all the people around them who conveniently disappear?"
"Sure, but there's no proof of anything."
"Correction, there was no proof of anything."
A light bulb went on in my head. "You've got a witness to protect, don't you?"
Emmett nodded grimly.
Emmett worked for the WitSec, the U.S. Witness Protection Program. Most of the people he protected were criminals themselves, but even a criminal didn't deserve to die for testifying. Testifying against the Volturi was almost certain to end in the death.
I winced. "Best of luck to the poor sod."
"What?" My previous train of thought came to a screeching halt as the word he said slowly sunk in.
"The person coming forward is a girl," Emmett said. "She's twenty-four years old, and she's completely innocent of any crime." He finished his bottle of beer in one long drink and then set the bottle down on my glass coffee table with a clink. "You got any more beer?"
I closed my eyes."Tell me someone is trying to talk her out of testifying."
Emmett took his feet off the table and stood up. He walked over to the fridge and surveyed its contents. "Why don't you have any more American beer cold? All this stuff in your fridge is foreign shit."
"Belgian beer is most certainly not shit," I answered automatically. This was an argument we had often.
Emmett muttered something about uppity beer and then grabbed two bottles from the refrigerator. One in each hand, he flicked them against my granite countertop and they both popped open simultaneously. He was such a show-off.
"You're going to scratch the finish doing that."
"What's the point of having a stone countertop if you can't hit things on it?"
"I have a bottle opener, you know."
Both beers open, he was suddenly serious again. "I've told her not to testify, begged her even."
"Aren't you supposed to encourage people to testify?"
"Edward," Emmett said, as though he were talking to a small child. "I tell people to testify because I can protect them. I promise to do my damnedest to protect them. I don't see how I can protect this girl, so I don't want her to testify. I can't have her death on my conscience. "
"You asked her not to testify, and she's doing it anyway?" I leaned forward, sitting on the edge of my chair, genuinely interested.
"She said her days were numbered no matter what." Emmett's face twisted in regret. "Said she wanted fry them so they couldn't hurt anyone else."
"The world needs more people like that. Too bad they're all dead." I took a long drink of my Stella Artois.
"They're not all dead," Emmett snapped. "Believe it or not, little brother, I've never lost a witness."
"Where are you going to hide her?"
"I couldn't tell you that, even if I knew."
I was appalled. "You mean you don't even know?"
"Don't laugh, but right now I have her in jail." Emmett looked away, not meeting my eyes.
"I'm not laughing, because that's not funny." I realized I couldn't sit any longer. I stood up, pacing through my living room.
Emmett's eyes followed me around the room, but he stayed seated on the couch. "Look, nowhere is safe. I have reason to believe that even WitSec has rats. We had a close scrape with her last month. And yesterday. At this point, she's toast anywhere I would send her."
"What are you going to do?"
"Well," Emmett said, "She's not keen on this jail thing. I think I'm going to try a mental health facility next."
"When is the trial?" I paused in my pacing to meet Emmett's gaze.
"Oh, it's probably at least a year off." Emmett set another empty beer bottle on the coffee table and started in on his third. "You know how these things go."
"You're going to shuffle a 24-year-old woman, a person who has done nothing wrong and is only trying to help people, between jails and mental facilities for a year? Are you kidding me?"
"You don't understand. It's the only thing I've come up with. So far, she has been ridiculously blasé about the danger. But yesterday she looked at me with her big doe eyes and asked me to just keep her safe until the trial so this wouldn't all be for nothing."
"Does she understand that even if they're convicted, they're going to appeal, and her nightmare could go on for years?"
"I've told her that," Emmett said, his face uncharacteristically sad.
"Tell me again why our justice system insists on persecuting the innocent?"
"Edward, we've been through this before."
"I'm sorry," I sighed. "I know you can't do anything about it."
"Told you this would depress you. I got so depressed that I even considered letting her move in with me, but I can't risk Rosie and the girls."
My eyes narrowed. "That's allowed?"
"Her case is a little bit special. This is such a big deal that I can do anything that keeps her alive. Do you honestly think they would normally let me hide someone in prison?"
I stood again, walking over to the big bay window that overlooked my well-manicured flower garden in the back of the house. I stared out the window for several long moments, considering. "What does she look like?"
"Why?" Emmett asked, suddenly defensive. "You think I only lose sleep over the pretty girls? I really resent that, Edward."
"That's not what I meant. You said she's twenty-four. I just wondered if she's attractive."
"She's no Rosalie, but she's pretty. No one would throw her out of bed. She's wholesome."
"Wholesome, like granola, or wholesome like girl-next-door?"
"Girl next door, definitely." Emmett set his third empty beer bottle on the coffee table.
I was considering an idea that was borderline ridiculous. I didn't even know this girl, but I was concerned for her welfare. If she shuffled between mental institutions for a year, she'd probably be crazy by the time she finally was able to testify. No one should have to go through that. "You know," I said slowly, drawing out the words, "She could stay here."
I turned to face Emmett so he would see I meant what I was saying. "I'm not married; I'm not worried about protecting anyone but myself. After crazy Lauren started stalking me, I installed top-notch security. This is no mental institution, but…"
Emmett stared at me, unblinking. "You're serious?"
"What would you do, hide her here?"
"The house is certainly big enough, but no. We would make up some story, tell people she's my fiancée or something."
"You're the one who needs a mental institution. Mom would never go along with that."
I snorted. "Don't be ridiculous. Mom has been waiting for me to have a fiancée for the last five years."
"Wait, you wouldn't tell mom the truth?"
"Mom can't lie to save her life. Besides, this witness stuff is supposed to be confidential. Wouldn't it be a breach to have the family know?" Another thought struck me, and I started to really warm to my idea. "Besides, if I have a fiancée, Mom and Alice will stop meddling in my life."
"There are so many problems with this idea. Not the least of which is that they'll want to plan a wedding." Emmett shook his head.
"And yet, I can tell you're intrigued." I'd always been good at reading people, and I could see Emmett was considering my idea. That he was taking me seriously was a sign of how worried he was for this girl.
"You would really take her in? Until the trial? Sight unseen?" Emmett looked at me intently. "What if you hate her?"
"How could I hate her? You said she's wholesome and you like her enough that you begged her not to testify." It hadn't occurred to me that her company might be unappealing. Even if that were the case, the house was certainly big enough for us to minimize our contact.
"I don't know, Edward," Emmett said apprehensively. "She might not want…"
"Seriously? You think anyone would rather live in a mental institution than hang out in my six thousand square foot house?" That idea was unfathomable to me.
"What about your social life?"
"Jessica and I broke up. It's not as though there's anyone to be offended by the idea."
"You understand the trial is like a year away, right? Do you expect me to believe you can stay away from other women all the way until the trial to keep up the pretense of being engaged?"
I shrugged. I couldn't really promise not to have sex for a whole year, and Emmett knew it. "If I meet someone else, I'll be discreet."
Emmett's brow furrowed, and I guess my promise of discretion was enough for him. "This is going to take some doing, you know."
"I know you're more than capable." I slapped him on the shoulder.
"I'll see what I can do. I'll call you when I've made the arrangements. You're sure you want to do this?" Emmett gave me a hard look.
I considered it carefully. A year was a long time to live with a stranger, but the idea of some girl rotting her life away in jail while she waited for a chance to put bad guys in jail was just too much for me. "I'm not jumping up and down about it, but I think it's probably the best option for your girl right now."
"All right, Edward," Emmett said after another searching glance. "I'm trusting you to take care of her. Don't screw up."