A/N: Hi, duckies! I promised this to readers of ACAP, and here it is. This is what was originally supposed to be the darker twin storyline of ACAP, but I've reimagined and expanded it into its own story. Just a warning, it will be MUCH darker and MUCH more graphic than anything else I've posted here. But there will be a happy ending; I'm a sucker for happy endings! My inspiration came from Shawn Mullins' song "Lullaby" as well as some of the dark, depressing essays of the incomparable Joan Didion.
All standard disclaimers apply.
Once in a while it was nice to get away, Edward thought. It was nice to indulge Alice and head to a place where beautiful people congregated, where they could walk the strips of bustling nightclubs and shiny shops, the reverberating thud of heavy bass buzzing in their bones, and feel...not connected, exactly, but not as out-of-place as usual. L.A. was not normally overcast enough for them to visit, but this February there were a string of cloudy days and storms, and Alice, having seen this, insisted that it was time to take a trip to the city of angels. She and Rosalie planned several days' worth of shopping along the exclusive strips of Beverly Hills and several nights' worth of dancing in the best clubs. Jasper and Emmett went along because they always went along, because they could deny their wives nothing, and because it got them out of school. Emmett didn't mind high school as much as the others did - he rather liked intimidating the boys there, in fact - but Jasper loathed it almost as much as Edward himself did. The time he spent with Maria, and then later as a nomad, made it harder on him to pretend to be a high school kid. It rankled at times, and though he was generally a calm individual, sometimes the facade of youth was just too much to handle. At times like these, he was more than happy to accompany Alice to Beverly Hills, or Paris, Monaco, or Tokyo - wherever she wanted to go, really - where the young and beautiful came to throw money around in a listless explosion of ennui.
Edward had to admit that he also enjoyed these excursions, and his reasons were similar. When they traveled amongst Hollywood's starlets or Monte Carlo's young heirs and heiresses, they blended better than they did anywhere else. Occasionally Rose or Alice would find photos of themselves inside the next issue of whatever tabloid had had photographers around, and they would giggle as the captions questioned who these beautiful people were. It was a good thing, Edward mused as he followed Alice and Jasper along a wide boulevard in the Hollywood Hills, the cloudy day slowly turning into night, that humans had got it wrong and vampires really did show up in photographs and mirrors. If not, with all the paparazzi littering this city, it wouldn't be safe for them to show themselves. People who took photos for a living tended to shoot with impunity when they saw a beautiful face. Seeing five at once, well...it was like expecting a werewolf to remain calm while you hurled insults at him, if you expected a paparazzo not to snap pictures as the Cullens sauntered up Rodeo Drive.
"Edward?" Alice's voice was tentative, which was not normal for her. He glanced at his baby sister. They were the closest pair of siblings in the family, but there was still distance between them. Edward felt distance from all his family members - even his erstwhile parents, at times - and he knew they all felt that it was because he was the only single among a family of couples. He wasn't sure that was the entire problem, though he was willing to admit that it did likely play a part. He was over a hundred years old now, and he had no idea what love was like. Not in the first person, anyway. He glimpsed it around him daily, in the happiness his brothers and father shared with their mates. It wasn't something he could relate to, though. Idly he wondered if there really was someone out there for him.
"Edward, are you listening? Would you do me a favor?"
He knew better than to say 'anything,' like Jasper would, but he let one side of his mouth slide up into the smallest hint of a smile as Alice drew him out of his depressing thoughts. "Depends."
"Don't ask any questions," she said. "Just...it's too early to go clubbing, and I have a couple more stores I want to check out before they close, but we're supposed to meet Rose and Emmett really soon. They left their phones at the hotel, so I can't call them. Would you mind terribly heading to the rendezvous spot and telling them Jasper and I'll be a little late?"
Edward grit his teeth, raising an eyebrow. It wasn't that he minded Alice's request - everyone knew he couldn't stand shopping, with or without his little whirlwind of a sister. But she was carefully shielding her thoughts from him, which meant she was hiding something. Which meant, of course - knowing Alice - that she was scheming. And an Alice scheme was something he wanted no part of. "What aren't you telling me?" he demanded, knowing it would do no good but still resolved to try.
"Just trust me this once, will you?" Alice batted her eyelashes, smiling in a way that always got her what she wanted with Jasper, but it had no effect on Edward.
He groaned and ran his fingers through his hair. "Fine," he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Fine. Just...where am I supposed to meet them?"
She let the address filter through the wall in her mind, and he nodded. It was a bar they'd frequented in the seventies, and liked. Apparently someone was feeling nostalgic.
"Thank you, Edward!" Alice said. "You won't regret this, I promise!"
Edward shared a glance with his Southern brother. Jasper didn't know what was going on, either. He lifted his mouth in a smile of commiseration before Alice turned him around and guided him back down the street. "We'll be there in a couple of hours!" she called over her shoulder to Edward. He saluted lazily and turned the other way, back toward the car.
The air was warm and slightly humid, and Edward breathed it in as he walked the thinning crowds, people parting to make way and closing behind him again. They did it subconsciously - not like they would for a known actor or musician. It was their fear reflex, the deep instinct of a prey animal sensing a predator, that made them do it. Edward grimaced inwardly. If these tourists remembered him at all, it would be as a beautiful face, the features indistinct and unclear, as their small memories could not process all of what he was. They would assume he was an actor or model, someone unknown to them but clearly of importance. Clearly someone who belonged.
Little did they know how wrong they were.
Edward slid behind the wheel of the rental Mustang. It had been Alice's choice and he didn't particularly care for it. He preferred European craftsmanship over American muscle, but this was Alice's vacation and he was only here to catch a break from school and the small-town intensity that was Forks. It was tiring, often, being the only interesting thing in a small town full of dull people living dull lives. He revved the engine, pulling out of his parking spot and heading out of the Hills, down toward the address Alice had given him.
He was a little surprised to find his mind returning to the same thoughts that had been revolving in his head earlier. He loved his family - looked up to Carlisle, adored Esme, and enjoyed the company of his siblings - but lately he'd been wondering if that was really enough to content himself with for a near-eternal lifespan. He hadn't had a choice about being changed, and that was one thing he shared with Rose - the wish for a normal human life, the one thing they could never have. Rose was angry about her change for a long time, while Edward had not been mad...resigned, perhaps, he thought now. He glanced at a family of tourists strolling along outside a strip mall, the two little girls clutching ice cream cones and giggling as their father scratched his head over a tourist map. That's what he had wanted, when he was a seventeen-year-old boy, before his family had succumbed to the outbreak of Spanish flu. There had been no particular girls he wanted to court, but he wanted that ideal family life, the life his parents and aunts and uncles had: children, a house, a smiling wife. Oh, he'd had other goals. He was on his way to Yale, in fact, before the flu hit. But becoming a lawyer or businessman like his father and uncles had taken second place in his heart, behind the wish for a family of his own.
Now, of course, there was no way he could ever have that family he'd wished for back then, so he'd buried the dream. He could still have a mate - a wife - someone to share this eternal life with. But so far the right girl hadn't revealed herself. The daughters of their sister coven in Denali were pretty enough, he supposed, but they didn't make him feel what he thought he was supposed to feel for a mate. Certainly he did not love any of them, especially Tanya, the strawberry blonde who just would not take a hint and leave him alone. There had to be someone better out there, didn't there? Edward buried a sigh. He refused to sound like some woebegone fairy tale prince mooning over love, no matter how lonely this city made him feel.
Briefly, he considered cutting his trip short and returning to Forks. Carlisle had stayed behind to work, and Esme was in Vancouver for the week, consulting on the refurbishment of a block of old rowhouses. She loved British Columbia, and Edward suspected they might soon find another residence there, added to the rest of the Cullen manses.
But, no. If he left early, Alice would demand a reason. And he couldn't give her one. Edward made a left-hand turn onto the correct street and glanced at the address numbers. Six blocks to go. There was nothing so horrible about this vacation. It wasn't worse than any other they'd taken. He had no reason to skip out.
His phone suddenly buzzed on the center console, and Edward shot a glance toward it. A text from Alice. "Don't you dare," it read. He made a face. Of course she'd see him flirt with the decision to go home. She also likely knew perfectly well that he wouldn't really do it. She just liked to meddle, and most of the time it didn't bother him. She was his sister, and it was part of her personality.
Edward pulled into an empty parking spot two blocks from the bar where he was supposed to meet Rose and Emmett. Since Alice confirmed that it was going to be cloudy all day, Emmett had begged and begged to go to Disneyland. Nobody else wanted to - no roller coaster could compare with the speeds they could reach running, anyway - but Rose had indulged him. That was the sort of thing he wished he could find in a girl for himself, he thought idly as he stepped out of the car and locked it. This wasn't the sort of place where a car would likely be stolen, but it was a reflex action.
Edward pulled open the door of the Willow Bar, slipping from outdoor twilight to indoor dimness. This place was kind of a dive, he remembered as he glanced around, but it was also cleaner than most, and the ancient man behind the bar didn't care how long they sat with their drinks as long as they tipped well. Alcohol was one thing vampires could sip, as long as they did so sparingly. It would never get them drunk, but it evaporated quickly in their systems. That was why Alice and Rose preferred nightclubs and bars to daytime restaurants. Nobody thought it was strange to see a group of people holding drinks and talking or dancing, and they didn't have to explain away the fact that they did not eat.
Glancing around, Edward noted that the place looked the same as it had the last time they were here, decades ago. He was willing to bet that the old man behind the bar was the same old man, too. It was even possible that the two or three drunks scattered around the place were the same drunks; he understood that tipplers tended to have emotional attachments to their watering holes. Rosalie and Emmett weren't here yet, so Edward went to the bar to order a drink before settling in to wait.
"ID?" the bartender asked, raising one bushy white eyebrow in Edward's direction. Edward knew perfectly well that he didn't look twenty-one, but it still irked him a little when these men and women, decades younger than himself, insisted on seeing ID. He pulled the Washington State driver's license out of his pocket, the one that claimed that he was twenty-two. The man glanced back and forth between Edward and his photo several times before handing it back to him with a sigh. "What'll it be?"
"Double rye," Edward said at random, glancing at the bottles on the wall behind the bar.
"On the rocks?"
Collecting his glass of golden-brown liquid, Edward turned and scanned the room again. It was small and dark, and almost everything in the place was dull brown. Solid wooden tables littered the floor, and uncomfortable-looking booths lined two walls. Several men who looked like regulars sat alone here and there, and one younger couple sat in a corner booth, engrossed in each other.
A flash of movement caught Edward's eye - it wasn't a big movement, but Edward turned his head and saw a girl who looked far too young to be in a bar huddled in a booth, a pile of books and a laptop next to her, along with an untouched basket of fries and a half-full pint glass.
She had turned a page in an open book; that's what Edward had seen. He wrinkled his brow in confusion as he stared at her. Nothing about this picture seemed right. Here was a young girl with her schoolbooks sitting in a bar, her head lowered over an open page, as if she were at a library or Starbucks or something like that. He turned his head, about to ask the bartender what was going on with her, but he swallowed the words quickly and instead took a seat where he could study her unobtrusively. She had long dark hair that shone when a stray gleam in the dim room caught it, and her pale skin almost glowed against the dark background of the booth. She raised her head suddenly, her attention caught by something on the mute television behind the bar, and Edward forgot to breathe.
She was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen in his life.
Her face made her look older than he'd thought at first - not old enough to be sitting in a bar, still, but older than he'd first assumed. His initial guess had been fourteen or so, but now he raised her age a couple of years. Her sweet face was heart-shaped and delicate, her cheekbones sweeping almost like wings across her face. Her lips were full and sweetly pink, and her eyes - her eyes! Edward didn't know what to think when he saw her eyes. They were dark, like her hair, and shadowed with old pain. If he hadn't been sitting, he'd have fallen to his knees at the sight of those eyes, eyes too old for that pretty young face. He glanced at the television screen quickly, but it was just a ball game - nothing that ought to make her look like that. Gazing at her again, Edward shook his head mentally. No, the pain in her eyes was old. It had long since festered, feeding on itself, building scar tissue in her emotions and her mind. Whatever it was, it was something this young girl didn't know how to deal with. He felt an upsurge of sudden anger toward whomever had caused that pain. It wasn't fair for someone so young to be forced to endure whatever had happened to her.
Edward felt his phone buzz in his pocket, and he reluctantly pulled his eyes away from the mysterious girl. "Yes?"
"You're welcome," Alice sang happily in his ear.
Edward frowned. "What am I thanking you for?"
"Isn't she there?"
"No!" Alice snapped. "Bella! Isn't she there?"
Edward glanced around the room again, his eyes falling on the girl in the booth. She had dropped her head back to her books and continued to huddle at the far end of her seat. "I don't know any Bella," he said.
Alice groaned. "You're impossible! Edward, is there a girl there with dark hair and big brown eyes?"
The biggest, most beautiful brown eyes, Edward thought. "Yes," was all he said out loud.
"Have you talked to her yet?"
"Of course not," Edward said disgustedly. "What do you think I am, some kind of lecher, hitting on underage girls at bars?" He was talking quietly into the phone, but he angled himself away from the bar anyway, just in case the old man might have better hearing than Edward thought.
Alice huffed. "How are you supposed to get to know her if you don't talk to her?"
Edward narrowed his eyes. "Mary Alice Brandon Cullen, you tell me the truth right now! Did you lie to me earlier today when you said Rose and Emmett left their phones at the hotel?"
"Of course not!" Alice's voice was full of mock hurt. "I'm wounded, Edward, truly wounded that you would think that of me. I merely want to help you." She paused. "You know, I don't know much about her. What's her mind like? What's she thinking?"
Edward opened his mouth to answer and had to shut it again instantly. Reaching out toward the girl in the booth, he felt...nothing. No wall like his family had learned to put up to keep him out of their minds. He literally heard nothing from her. His ears could hear her heartbeat, but his sixth sense picked up nothing from her mind. It was as if she wasn't even there.
"Edward?" Alice prompted.
"I'll call you later," he mumbled, shutting his phone. He stared at the girl, scowling in confusion. She was obviously there, obviously awake and cognizant. She was doing homework, for chrissakes. And yet, he heard nothing.
"Eddie-boy!" Emmett crowed, waltzing through the door.
Before turning to his brother and sister, Edward saw the girl's response to Emmett's loud voice. She couldn't see the front door from her spot in the tall-backed booth, but she cringed away from the noise, huddling even further into the far corner of her seat. The movement was that of a scared animal, and Edward felt his blood begin to boil again at whomever had done this to her - given her these reactions. Granted, Emmett was a lot to take in at first glance. Still, she shouldn't be that scared of him. He'd activated her instinctual fight or flight mechanism, and that was hard to do, even for vampires. Something had happened to this girl. Something bad.
But then Emmett was beside him, clapping him on the shoulder and ordering a pitcher of beer. The old man behind the bar didn't even bother asking for Emmett or Rosalie's ID, and brought Rose a cosmopolitan and Emmett his pitcher without a word. The three settled at a table, and Edward rolled his eyes at his bigger brother's antics.
"You're going to make yourself sick," he warned. "Beer's mostly water, you know."
"Don't bother," Rose said, rolling her eyes. "He already ate some cotton candy and tried a corndog today."
"I was blending in," Emmett said, making a gliding motion with his hand as if to express a covert operation.
"Rose?" Edward appealed to his more realistic sibling.
Rosalie merely smiled and shrugged her shoulders. It was clear that she was indulging Emmett today, and that meant no smacking him upside the head. Edward glanced at Emmett, wondering for the thousandth time what Rose saw in him. He was currently wearing a gigantic t-shirt with the ghosts from Disneyland's Haunted Mansion on it, and on his head he wore Mickey ears with his name embroidered on the back. Under Rosalie's chair were several bulging bags with the Disneyland logo: more souvenirs of Emmett's choosing, no doubt. Rose was almost as much of a shopaholic as Alice, but there were times when even she drew the line, and tacky souvenirs were one of them.
Edward pulled a stray thought from Rose's head. "Was it 'blending in' when you almost got kicked off Pirates of the Caribbean for indecent exposure?" he asked.
Emmett only laughed, chugging beer. "That wasn't indecent exposure," he said, waving away Edward's protest. "We were only making out a little, but there were some uptight parents in the boat behind us."
"Emmett - " Edward started.
"Oh, leave him alone," Rose snapped. "Let him have his fun."
Edward usually returned Rose's griping with barbs of his own, but today he let it slide. He glanced at the mystery girl's booth again, but he couldn't see her from this angle. "I'm getting out of here," he snapped, and rose to leave.
"Sure you're okay to drive?" Emmett asked, giggling into his beer.
Edward didn't answer as he pushed his way out of the bar, into the muggy haze of nighttime Los Angeles.
Six weeks later, Edward found himself sitting on a couch next to Jasper, playing a video game with half his attention, waiting for a family meeting to start.
"Pause your game, please, boys," Carlisle said, entering the room. Jasper did, and Edward dropped his controller. Esme was already seated in a chair, and they all waited as the girls and Emmett trooped in.
Emmett held his Mickey ears in his hand, and he held them up. "I would like to suggest that we use these," he said, flourishing the ears, "as the official Talking Ears. Whoever's wearing them gets to talk, and no one else."
"Sorry, son," Carlisle said, biting back a smile, "but this isn't that type of meeting. I called you all here to give you some news." He lifted his lips in a smile as he glanced at Esme, and she smiled encouragingly back. Edward refrained from digging in their minds, though he suspected that she already knew what Carlisle was about to tell them.
"As you may or may not know," Carlisle went on, "our police chief, Charlie Swan, has a teenage daughter."
"Really?" Emmett rubbed his head. "He always seemed like an old bachelor to me."
"Yes, well, he hasn't seen her in years. She lives in Arizona with her mother, from what he tells me. They were married a short time, but it didn't work out. Renee, his ex-wife, left him abruptly one day when the little girl was just a toddler. He fought for custody but lost - courts rarely like to separate mothers from their children, and with Charlie's dangerous profession, he didn't stand a chance."
"Sucks to be him," Rose said, folding her arms across her chest and looking impatient. "What's it got to do with us?"
"There have been some recent problems," Carlisle said, rubbing his palms together in an action that belied his nerves. "Charlie was contacted recently by Arizona state child protective services. It seems that the daughter has been repeatedly taken away from her mother for short periods of time over the last ten years or so, for various reasons - failure to provide adequate care, mostly. There have been no overt claims of physical abuse, but it's still a crime in most states to neglect a child."
"Poor kid," Emmett said, shaking his head.
"Well, she's been taken away once again, and she's in a group home right now. Charlie's only just been notified, and he's desperate to get her out of there. He's started a fight for permanent custody, but it will take a while to get an interstate court date worked out. That's where we come in."
"We're supposedly a foster family," Rose said with distaste, clearly seeing where this was going.
"Rose, Jasper, I'm sorry," Carlisle said. "I know you don't like being around humans, Rosalie, and I know this will be difficult for you, Jasper. But he begged me so hard, and I just couldn't say no to the man. He hasn't seen his daughter since she was three years old, and he's desperate to have her with him. We're the only foster family in Forks. He said he knew we already had a full house of teenagers, but he assured me that it would only be temporary, until he regained custody. It doesn't look like her mother has a leg to stand on when this goes to trial, which shouldn't be more than a month or two."
"And what about the kid?" Rose demanded. "What does she have to say about all this?"
Carlisle sighed. "I know you have a hard time with people making decisions for others, Rose, honey, but the legal system needs to do what's best for the child, which may not be what she wants. We'll do our best to care for her while she's with us, and I'm sure Chief Swan will as well. He didn't know much about her, but it's clear that she hasn't had a very stable family life. Let's try not to make it any worse while she's with us. Got it? Rose?"
"I won't terrorize her," Rose said, wrinkling her nose. "But that doesn't mean I have to like her."
"No, you don't," Carlisle agreed. "If you can't be nice, just stay out of her way. She won't be here long."
"You better be right about that," Rose said before heading upstairs.
Carlisle sighed as Emmett followed his wife. "Well, that went about as well as I had expected." He glanced at Jasper. "Are you going to be okay, son? I really am sorry about this. I wouldn't have done it if I was able to find a way out of it."
Jasper grimaced, but he nodded. "I may have to take some long hunting trips, but I'll cope. I'm around humans every day at school, anyway."
"I know, which is why I'm sorry. This home is supposed to be your sanctuary, and I'm taking that away from you."
"Only temporarily," Jasper said with a little shrug. He slung his arm around Alice and drew her close. "It's all right. I'll live."
"Good." Carlisle turned to Edward. "Edward, please forward to Emmett that you and he are to be on your best behavior. Try not to scare her. And Alice, try not to overwhelm her."
"Poor thing," Esme added, musing from her corner. "Being bounced in and out of her mother's house all her life. Who knows what she'll think of this new move? We'll have to be as understanding as possible."
"Be prepared for anger," Carlisle agreed. "She may be feeling quite a lot of it. Charlie didn't know if she knew anything at all about him. She may well view this move to Forks as meddling by people who don't know anything."
"What do you know about her, other than that she's Chief Swan's daughter?" Esme asked.
"Nothing, really. Her name is Isabella, and she's sixteen. That's about it. Charlie didn't know her favorite color, even."
"Well, that doesn't help us get her room ready, does it?" Esme said, frowning a little. "Alice? How would you like to take a trip to Seattle with me tomorrow? We can browse the stores and do our best."
"You bet!" Alice said excitedly. "Whatever you do, Esme, I'm sure she'll love it."
Ah, prologues. They set you up with lots of necessary information but very little action. Ah, well. Till next time, duckies! Mwah!