READ THIS FIRST. This story has very, very dark themes. At no point am I ever trying to make light of the subjects you will find here. Among them, physical, emotional and, later, sexual abuse. I have tried to deal with this story in as realistic a way as I know possible. As a survivor of physical and emotional abuse, some of these incidents are based on personal experience. The rest are based on countless psychology books I've read, and personal stories I've heard through my mother who was a psychologist and social worker for many years. I am not trying to present a reality that this happens in all foster homes. I know it doesn't. However, everything that takes place here has its basis in reality.

So again, you've been warned. Dark themes lie ahead. It was hard for me to write, so I'm sure it could be very hard for you to read. PLEASE do both of us a favor and leave now if this isn't what you want to read about. Believe me, I'll understand.

Disclaimer: I don't own these beautiful characters, Stephenie Meyer does. I love them. I really, really do.

Chapter 1 – Prologue: As Heaven is Wide

" If holy is as holy does
This house will burn straight down to hell
Take its conscience with it as it falls
Nothing said could change the fact
My trust was blind, you broke the pact
If god's my witness god must be blind"
- As Heaven is Wide, Garbage

James Whitlock was, on the outside, what appeared to be every woman's dream. As a high school senior he was good looking, charming and very smart. He was a quarterback on Houston High School's successful football team. He got good grades. He volunteered at the local hospital at least once a week.

In his senior year he befriended and dated Maria Gatell. For a year she had been the subject of much of the school's gossip. Originally from Arizona, all that was really known about her was that her parents were dead and she lived with an Uncle.

James hadn't been like the other kids who stared or made fun of her. He seemed to genuinely care. He listened and she told all of her secrets. How her parents had been drug users. How they'd fought all the time. How her father had killed her mother one day, when Maria was at a friend's house, before turning the gun on himself. How she'd come to live with her father's brother, who was negligent at best and more than a little irritated at having a teenager in his life.

They dated all through senior year and they seemed like the ideal couple. During their first year of college, Maria got pregnant and James married her. James was from a wealthy family, so Maria dropped out to care for their son, Jasper James Witlock, while James continued to go to school.

It seemed, to all, like a happy story, even if the couple in question was a little young for parenthood and marriage. But if they had looked any closer, they would have seen James for who he was, even then.

They would have seen that, when he held her, James often whispered to Maria that he was the only one who would ever love her; who could ever love her. They would have noticed that, when she tried to go out with other people a few times, he would get angry and shun her until she begged and pleaded and promised that he was the most important person to her.

The truth of the matter was that Maria was a troubled girl and James preyed on her weaknesses, her fear of abandonment and of being unloved, until she was compliant to his every whim. And compliant she was, until there was someone in her life even more important than James, who she loved with everything she had.

As more and more of Maria's time was taken by baby Jasper, James grew more and more impatient. The summer after his second year of college, when Jasper was just 3 months old, James left for a "break" to visit his old friends in his hometown of Forks, WA.

He didn't come back.

Maria was devastated. His words that no one would ever love her besides him echoed in her mind day after day. The fear and loneliness almost drove her under. Except that there was someone who meant more to her than James ever could, meant more than her own life.

At first, Maria lived for Jasper.

Using the money James' parents provided for her silence, Maria went to school, and then on to a fulfilling job. She sought counseling to deal with her grief. With her counselor's help she started to understand the difference between love and manipulation.

More than that, she began to remember the things James had told her about the heavy-handed way he'd been raised, and his strict ideas on how a child should be brought up. She was horrified at the life she easily could have doomed her son to.

She started to realize she had dodged a bullet.

But when Jasper was 12 there was a car accident. The same accident that left Jasper with scars littering his face, torso, arms and legs also killed Maria Whitlock.

Having never gotten around to divorcing her husband officially, custody of Jasper Whitlock automatically went to his father. This was how James ended up with a scarred and traumatized child in his care.

Right away, Jasper's soft-spoken attitude and demeanor irritated James. The boy was too quiet, lacking the confidence James felt men should carry themselves with. He had been raised to be respectful and so for a little while, James had no reason to raise a hand to the boy. But there was a volatile storm that was brewing between them. Jasper was a very observant child, and he knew there was something off about his father.; something that made him nervous and jumpy. It was only a matter of time before James snapped.

When it happened, Jasper stayed home from school for a week while the bruising went down.

Whenever James would beat his son, he told him how his mother had raised him wrong; that there was something missing from his character having been raised by a woman. He told the boy that he needed to toughen up and be a man. Minds are not as sturdy as bodies. Little by little, Jasper's mind started to believe his father's vicious words. Without anyone to turn to, Jasper might have eventually been lost.

His salvation came at another's expense.

James worked at the hospital as one of the orderlies; just another in a long list of deceptions that made anyone on the outside believe he was a fine, upstanding citizen. He was working, one evening, when then 13 year old Edward Masen was brought in needing stitches. He'd been in a fist fight with one of the other boys in his foster home. James learned that night that young Edward had been in and out of four different foster homes in the last year between Forks and Port Angeles. The boy's social worker, looking frustrated and harried, confided in James that the trouble was that there were not enough foster homes in the area, and the group homes only seemed to get Edward into more trouble.

Peeking in at the teenager, James thought he just needed to be taken down a peg or two. The boy held himself with an arrogance that told James he didn't know the meaning of respect for his elders.

A plan began to formulate in James' head. A lifetime of spending as he pleased had, by that time, sapped his considerable funds. He now worked because he needed to, and he was always looking for a way to supplement his income. It was one of the reasons he had agreed to take his son in - the boy had inherited all of his mother's money.

Jasper had also told him of his mother's profession. Maria had been a social worker, finding peace in helping children as troubled as she had once been. He knew that one could make a decent amount of money opening their home to a foster child. He spoke to Edward's social worker about becoming a foster parent, and then he went home and told his son to help him get the house in order.

At first, Jasper refused. The idea of someone else sharing his life was sickening to the boy, even at 14. Worse, it felt like a perversion of his mother's memory. His mother had worked so tirelessly to do her part in helping kids get placed with the right family. Jasper knew that his family was not the right family for Edward Masen. It wasn't the right family for anyone.

In the end, though, what could he do besides sit quietly as the social workers inspected the house? He knew what his father looked like on the outside. He was charming, hardworking and kind. He told the story that his wife had left him and had never told him that she was pregnant. He told everyone how happy he was to have his son. He answered all of their questions just the right way. He had been fortunate to get his son back. He wanted to help other troubled children. He told them how Jasper's mother had pretty much let him run wild, but with James' patience and the right amount of discipline, Jasper had become the polite, well-behaved fourteen year old they'd met that day.

Edward moved into the house only a couple of weeks later. Angry at the world, he told Jasper to fuck-off almost immediately, denying Jaspers attempts to befriend him. It didn't take him long to get in James' face - something James' swore to make him regret. James always followed through on his promises.

He was careful not to leave any bruises on the boy's body where the visiting social worker might see.

Jasper tried to encourage Edward not to antagonize James, but Edward was a stubborn boy. The altercations between James and him grew more violent until, two months after Edward had come to live with them, James dislocated his shoulder as he threw the boy to the ground.

Afterward, when Edward stumbled into the room they shared, he slumped against the wall, clutching his injured arm. Jasper said very little as he helped the younger boy pop his arm back into his socket. Edward had muffled his scream of agony against Jasper's shoulder, knowing if James heard they might both get in trouble. Shaking and crying, Edward had finally let Jasper in.

He told the older boy that his parents, Edward Sr. and Elizabeth, had been very good parents, but had been arrested one night. As he had no other family, Edward had been placed in foster care. He told Jasper that he had not believed it when the social workers told him his parents were thieves. He had been so angry.

It was only three months after that that James had taken in another foster child with a history - Isabella Swan, also 13. Bella's father had died in a shoot-out a few months previous and her mother, having been in and out of the girl's life since she was just a baby, could not be reached to claim her. She had been kicked out of her first foster home after being accused of stealing a necklace from her foster mother's daughter.

James had questioned her about the incident only days after her arrival, making sure she knew that such things would not be tolerated in his house. Raised to be honest above anything else, Bella told him that it was her necklace and Jane, her foster mother's daughter, had stolen it from her. When Bella stole it back, Jane had told her mother that Bella was the thief. James warned her not to lie, gripping her chin tightly in his hand. Scared at the coldness in James' eyes and frustrated that no one believed her despite the fact she was telling the truth, Bella had insisted again that she was innocent.

Jasper and Edward could do nothing but listen helplessly, both of their stomachs twisting with a sick anxiety. They had both seen, from the few days she had been there, that Bella was more innocent and naive than either of them had been. She'd been sheltered by her father who had been a cop. Jasper had been raised to respect and cherish girls. It made him feel powerless and wrong to just let James hurt her. On the other hand, Edward was positively livid. He was angrier than Jasper could remember seeing him. He had known Bella for years. From the moment she had walked through their door, he had wanted desperately to protect her. The fact that he couldn't had him clenching his fists in rage as he sat on his bed.

They heard, very clearly, when Bella let out a frightened shriek. There was the muffled sound of James yelling and then a loud, steady smacking sound punctuated by Bella's crying.

Jasper had to physically restrain Edward.

It was minutes later when the door to Bella's room opened and then slammed shut. The boys only waited another minute before flying out their door and into Bella's room. She was lying face down on her bed, sobbing inconsolably into her pillow. Her pants had been shoved down to her knees and she was rubbing her bared bottom with both hands, the skin there a bright, cherry red.

She'd been afraid of them at first, but then Jasper brought her her pajamas and Edward rubbed her back comfortingly. In between hiccupping gasps she'd sworn over and over to them that she didn't take the necklace. That it was hers. They'd both shushed her, telling her they believed her. When she had cried herself out she told them of the horrible things James had said as he'd spanked her.

He'd pulled her down over his knees, spanking her hard and fast, as she'd cried that she was innocent. James demanded she tell the truth. Finally she confessed to stealing the necklace, if only to make him stop. He'd kept on hitting her to punish her for lying, repeating again how he would not tolerate dishonest little thieves in his house.

Infinitely more painful than his hand smacking her ass were the things he'd said about her mother and father. That her father would be ashamed of her, and her mother was lucky to have rid herself of a lying daughter.

They'd both hugged her, and told her James was an asshole. They'd made her giggle to get her mind off the stinging pain in her backside and the horrible confusion in her mind.

As time passed, the trio grew closer, protecting each other when they could, comforting each other when they couldn't, but always surviving together.

Still with me? The first real chapter is next.