22-year-old Bella Swan came to study in London to escape her painful past. She meets Jasper Whitlock, a charismatic bartender who hides the fact he is just as haunted as she is. Can they help each other to heal? M for profanity, disturbing themes & graphic lemons.
NOTE: This fic does include mention of self-injury, just in case any readers are sensitive to that subject.
See, that says M up there - please don't read if you're under 18.
This is my first AH story so I hope you enjoy it - please leave a review.
*** Snaps for SydneyTwiMum - without whom I wouldn't have even started this crazy shit, Ladybugs_mum for her incessant encouragement, and SunKing for being an awesome beta and giving me help with the plot & figuring out a title. ***
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of Stephenie Meyer. 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. I don't own Bella or Jasper, but I do own a Rabbit *snort*.
Song: Coming Undone - Korn
Chapter 1: Paper Doll
Agh! I started as the freezing air hit me. It was cold as hell today, good thing I'd worn my parka. I started searching my book bag, trying to find the cigarette packet that I knew was in there somewhere.
Shit, where are they? I NEED a cigarette.
I knew that this was the behavior of an addict, and strangely, that realisation amused me. Funny to think that I'd never even so much as taken a drag of another person's smoke until a year ago, when I came to London. Small-town USA wasn't exactly conducive to smoking, and nobody in Forks did it, not even the quasi-rebellious kids like Tyler Crowley.
Most of the students I encountered smoked like chimneys and it didn't take long until I joined them. I'd choked on my first one, spluttering, but the head rush it gave me made me want another. Soon I was smoking more and more, and not just when I was drunk. I had a ten-a-day habit now, which wasn't as bad as it could be but still wasn't great. I was aware that yellow fingers, teeth and ashtray breath definitely weren't good, so I used whitening strips and gum religiously, scrubbing my hands often to get rid of the telltale stain between finger and thumb. The nicotine had become something to live for, a reason to get up in the morning. That freaked me the fuck out, but it was true. I wondered what Charlie, my dad, would say if he knew. He'd shit a brick. But then, there were a lot of things he didn't know about me, things I hadn't been able to tell him over the past 18 months. We spoke on the phone once a week, and as far as I could tell he thought I'd gotten over it all.
He couldn't have been more wrong.
I did sometimes worry about what my habit was doing to my lungs, but I probably didn't do them much good each time I woke screaming in my sleep. It had become something of a routine for me, and I dreaded it so much that I'd often stay up till 3 or 4 in the morning, eventually collapsing into unconsciousness as I lost my fight against slumber. Several times a week, I'd wake up screaming blue murder, the sweat pouring off me as I relived the worst experience of my life inside my head. I'd tried to hide this when I arrived in London with extra-strength sleeping pills, but they zonked me so much I couldn't concentrate on my work, let alone anything else.
I would have lived alone if I could have afforded it, but my international student fees were considerable and rents sky-high in the city. Therefore, my housemates had to experience my nightmares along with me. I could tell by the awkward looks Mike, Jessica, Eric and Angela exchanged together in the kitchen sometimes that they could hear me whenever I woke up with my throat and chest raw from screaming. Maybe they thought I was crazy. Perhaps not Angela though. She was one of those rare people who was genuinely sweet and kind and we hung out together, even though the others gave me a wide berth.
Sometimes I thought Angela could see right through me, though, past my bullshit, confident tough-girl exterior, right beneath to all the ugliness inside. She was one of those people. Her room was right next to mine so I think she even heard the things I muttered in my sleep. She'd quietly asked me if I was okay before, as an invitation to say more if I wanted to, but I never did. I'd spent too much time and energy on cultivating the new Bella. She was tough, self-assured and had no problem being alone, and indeed, I was alone most of the time. It was easier to pretend when I didn't have to be around well-adjusted people. Sooner or later, the facade would start to slip, as it did sometimes when I met the eyes of Jessica, Eric or Mike. They were all clean-cut, smart American students who'd come to do their Bachelor's degree here and experience everything London had to offer. I used to be like them too.
I found the packet and pulled out a cigarette, breathing a sigh of relief. Fumbling with my lighter, I clicked it on and placed the cig between my lips. I drew in a deep drag and relaxed, feeling the nicotine soothe me.
Fuck yes. Now I can face the day.
I sauntered down the path, heading for Camden Town underground station to catch the train that would take me to my first class of the day. I was in my second year of the English Literature degree now, and we had better stuff to read this time. Thomas Hardy was the first assignment. I liked his work: he was so uncompromising about human nature, a rare thing in a writer, and it fascinated me.
I suppose in terms of being a clean-cut American girl, I just stopped caring when I got here. I drank a fair bit, I had a one-night stand every so often, and I took drugs occasionally. Nothing unusual there – but it certainly wasn't the sort of thing that the old Bella would have done. Not that I was known as a crazy fucked up bitch, far from it – well, perhaps I was by Jess, Eric and Mike. I was pretty quiet, got on with my work, had good marks, and was generally well-liked, although I suspected I was seen as a bit of a loner. Not that I really gave a shit. My solitary existence was something I'd accepted as necessary. I spent most of my time doing homework in the library, or going out and seeing bands at various bars and clubs in the area, losing myself in alcohol and the loud beats to numb the pain. I did sometimes go out with other students from my course, or Angela, but I generally preferred to be alone.
As I reached the station and pulled my Oyster travel card out of my pocket, I looked around, taking in my surroundings. I liked living in Camden. It was a North London haven for alt-culture, with plenty of alternative, rock and metal bars, clubs, not to mention street stalls, and numerous tattoo and piercing studios. Kind of a shock for a girl who'd only lived in fairly conservative places in the US, but I'd grown to love it. Camden was way too fucking commercial, especially the market and the Lock, but there were still plenty of edgy, less-known places. Okay, I lived with my Mom, Renee, till I was 15 in Phoenix, which is a huge city, but it didn't have the vibe of London, a place that accepted you, no matter who you were.
London freaked me out at first, with the bright lights, noise and smells, but I quickly got used to it, relishing the anonymity it gave me. No one here knew me, and I prized that above all things. No one knew how damaged I was. I couldn't hide the pain when it came out in my sleep, but few knew about that. I had my ways of dealing with it, though. Ways that I took great care to make sure nobody ever discovered., especially my counselor. I'd been seeing her once a week ever since I got to London, and she was okay, but I was never really fully able to open up to her. She didn't know half of my story. To tell the truth, I knew if I told her anything real, I'd shatter into a thousand pieces and have a complete nervous breakdown. Or maybe even she'd think I was fucking crazy. Considering everything, I probably needed a psychiatrist, not a counsellor, but there was no way I was going to be able to talk about what had happened to me anytime soon.
I tapped my card on the touch pad and went through the turnstile. I sighed. Some days were better than others, and I could tell today was going to be a bad one. I drifted through my one lecture and seminar of the day, taking the requisite notes but barely there. This was definitely one of the bad days. I could feel the pain rising up within me, threatening to crush my chest with its intensity. The hand that held my pen shook over my notes, and I prayed the people either side of me in the lecture theatre wouldn't notice. As soon as the lecturer called that we were finished, I leapt up and blindly stumbled out, pushing past people in my haste to escape. I gasped in air as I pushed through the front doors and out onto the street. It was raining, and the city air smelled cool and clean, even though it probably wasn't. I inhaled deeply and lit another cigarette, standing in the shelter of the door as I smoked it.
When I arrived home, I fumbled with the key in the lock, trying to open the front door with shaking hands. I could see through to the kitchen. Jess was cooking. "Oh, hey, Bella!" she called with fake enthusiasm. I merely nodded to her, something she'd probably be pissed about later, but right then, I was so anxious to get to my room I didn't care. I ran up the stairs and unlocked my room, closing the door behind me and re-locking it as I went. Throwing the book bag down, I collapsed on my bed, still shaking, and tried to prevent the inevitable memory that I knew would come...
I drove along the small, winding road, feeling nervous. I didn't know what state I'd find him in. It might be as bad as the time I'd found him by his bed in a virtually catatonic state, rocking and screaming. I wished his parents, Elizabeth and Edward, weren't out at work, as I could have done with some help on this. Regardless, I knew whatever was going on, I could sort it out. He was the most beautiful, compassionate soul I'd ever met. Not perfect by any means, - he could be jealous, obsessive and a perfectionist - but I loved him perfectly.
We'd spoken three hours previously. "Hey," I'd said shyly, thrilled to hear from him when I hadn't expected to. "How are you?"
"Fine," he replied, a little stilted. "I know you're at work, I just – wanted to hear your voice. I love you so much, Bella."
"I love you too, silly," I'd replied, trying to lighten the mood a little even while panic clutched at my stomach.
The tone of his voice sent alarm bells ringing, but I'd been unable to get away from work at the Newton's outdoor store for the next two hours, as it was full of hikers arguing over the price of tents. I jumped into the car the first chance I got and drove full tilt to the white house nestled deep in the woods. I tried the front door and it was unlocked, which was unusual for his family.
Cautiously, I stepped inside.
"Edward?" I called tentatively, hoping he'd come down any minute, but there was no answer. Shit. I was really getting worried now. I ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time. An envelope outside the entrance to his room momentarily distracted me, but I ignored it in my hurry to get in, kicking it out the way as I burst through the door.
I clutched the door frame for support as I lurched forward and vomited all over the expensive rug I'd helped him choose just weeks ago.
Despite the fact that I'd deliberately avoided reliving the worst bit, I surfaced to find that I was curled up on my bed in the fetal position, shaking, tears pouring down my cheeks. It had probably been a couple of hours that I'd been lying there. My chest was tight, my breaths coming slowly and shallowly as my heart pounded out a jagged rhythm. I sat up, wiping the tears from my cheeks. It was time for my well-practiced method of pain control. I checked the door was locked, and then looked for the box I kept under my bed.
The reasons why I self-harmed went back to simple science I'd learned in Bio at Forks High. The brain has a gating mechanism for pain – if it hurts somewhere and you injure another part of your body, your brain will be forced to concentrate on the pain from the other injury. The same principle applied when cutting myself: by causing an injury, endorphins would be released by my brain, salving my emotional wounds and calming me. At any rate, it took the edge off the guilt and anguish that periodically washed over me.
I figured this was better than getting hooked on antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds, although it was probably no less addictive, and I'd had a few close calls where I'd cut deep enough to need stitches. I could never go to the ER, however, so I'd make do with my own clumsy stitching and a strong adhesive to hold the edges of skin together till they healed. I tried not to do it more than once a week, to give the fresh cuts a chance to heal, but that night I had to make an exception.
I unbuttoned my jeans and slid them down over my hips, kicking them off. Cold metal touched warm flesh. I watched dispassionately, almost bored as part of my thigh turned white with the pressure I was exerting. Drawing the sharp edge of the scissors across my flesh, I pressed down and a trickle of blood emerged. Carrying on, I methodically made five more cuts, going slowly to increase the pain. Dark red droplets leaked down my thigh and I watched their path, fascination giving way to euphoria. With the sharp pain came utter relief.
I needed this pain.
I deserved it.
My whole body relaxed, and I let the blade drop. I held a tissue to my thigh to stop the bleeding. As I cleaned the scissor blades and swept a fresh antiseptic wipe across my neat rows of red, I winced at the sting even as I took pleasure in it. Stowing the box under the bed again, I sat back down and smoothed the bedspread. The blissed-out feeling was wearing off quickly, far too quickly.
Sighing heavily, I realised I was going to have to find another crutch for the night. Alcohol it was, then. I rifled through my closet, figuring I'd have to find something better than ripped jeans and a baggy hoodie if I was going to a bar. It was getting kind of late, but I could probably get a few drinks in. Of course, I could have drunk in my room, but I think that was the definition of "having a problem". Doing it at a bar alone was far more legitimate, in my eyes. Five minutes later I was out the door, having exchanged my scruffy student wear for a black tube top and skinny jeans, layering a light hoodie over the top for warmth.
I kept my faded pink Chucks on, though, because I loved them. They were falling to pieces, but they'd been a gift from Edward and I wasn't about to throw them out.
That was exactly what I'd come out to forget about, and I was going to do it. I made for one of the busier streets in the area, where there seemed to be numerous bars. Several men eyed me speculatively as I passed them, a young girl on my own, but I shot them my just-try-it look and they let me alone.
Wanting to try a place I hadn't been before, I scanned the street and my eyes landed on a sign that said Phoenix. It looked quiet, which was fine by me, and so I continued on to the entrance. The room was dimly lit, with dark drapes at the windows. As I took in the rich crimson hue of the carpet I was reminded of my own blood seeping from my wounds, but I shrugged off the thought. I pulled the door open and a waft of stale air hit me, the stench of beer mingling with sweat. A familiar and comforting smell. This was where I could find peace, if only for the night.
It felt good to be somewhere I could get a drink. It was warm inside the bar so I shed my hoodie quickly once inside, ignoring the wolf-whistles from a couple of men as I revealed my tube top. I suddenly felt a little shy and pulled my long curtain of dark hair forward so that it covered my unimpressive cleavage. Making my way over to the bar, I was pleased to hear one of my favourite songs blasting out of the speakers; Nine Inch Nails' Closer. I swayed my hips unconsciously to the pulsing beat, humming along : "You let me violate you, mm-hm-mm-hm-mm-hm-mm, you let me desecrate you."
I fell unexpectedly silent as I looked up and spotted him for the first time at the other end of the bar, pulling a pint. I gulped. This man had to be one of the most beautiful male specimens I had ever seen. The Sex God bartender had dark hair that waved just past his ears, slightly long but not to the point where it would look ridiculous. Tightly muscled arms strained through his papery thin t-shirt that clung to him, revealing a six-pack, which I'm sure was his intention when he decided to wear it.
I watched his muscles flex as he held the pump handle down to facilitate the flow of amber liquid into the glass he held. A moment later, his eyes turned to me and I jolted as if he'd shocked me with an electric current. A smirk was playing on his face. Had he caught me looking? My breath caught in my chest and my heart fluttered as I watched him hand the drink to a customer and operate the till. I carefully seated myself on a bar stool and absently drummed my fingers on the wood as I watched him make his way over to me.
Whoever this man was, he'd awoken something inside me. I couldn't recall the last time I'd felt such an instant connection to someone. Maybe it was just me, but I felt that a facet of my entire existence had altered the moment those azure eyes locked on mine.
N.B. I won't be depicting graphic self-harm again very much, but I felt it was important to illustrate how much of a problem it is for Bella. Sadly, it affects a lot of people in the world and I didn't want to skirt the issue.
This is my first AH story so it's pretty scary. Actually, seriously - please review so I know that I haven't written a total crock of shit. Thankyou for reading & lots of love xxx
P.S. I'll be posting a weekly teaser & pictease for each chapter on my blog: http:/glitteratiglue(dot)blogspot(dot)com . I warn you, they're likely to be p0rny. Follow me on Twitter (glitteratiglue) to see when they'll arrive...