Summary: It all began with a horrific accident, which morphed familial love into hatred and enshrouded one family in darkness. The result? A vengeful bet designed to break down a guilt-ridden loner. When darkness is all that Bella and her family have known, will the green-eyed enemy prove to be the light that she stopped believing in long ago?
Rated M for all the usual reasons- language, dark themes, vague drug use, and possibly eventual lemons.
Any and all of my grammar/spelling mistakes are my full responsibility; I have no beta. Please forgive me.
April 29, 2003
"Honey, do you really think that we should leave Tanya here like this? She feels like she's got a slight fever now." Mrs. Denali looked down at her ten year old daughter who was currently snuggled into bed with a crimson nose and watery eyes.
Mr. Denali looked down at his daughter in sympathy. She didn't get sick that often, but whenever she did catch a bug, it was always the worst kind. For Tanya, there was no such a thing as the sniffles. During her ten year lifetime, she had already been in the hospital twice for pneumonia.
Mr. Denali placed a comforting hand on his wife's shoulder, "I know, sweetie. I called to tell Renee and Charlie that we probably wouldn't be able to make Bella's award ceremony, but when they tried explaining the situation to her, all she could really focus on was that we were breaking our promise," he sighed, rubbing his aching temples, "I compromised and told her that we would come long enough to see her get her award, but then we have to leave immediately after."
Mrs. Denali frowned, "I know we promised Bella that we would be there, but I just don't feel right leaving Tanya here. What if it gets worse? I know that she may not be too bad right now, but you know how awful her colds get." She anxiously tore her eyes away from her husband, inspecting Tanya as if she had suffered a massive downfall in the few seconds that it took for her to reply to Mr. Denali.
He chuckled, attempting to lessen his wife's worry. She always was the cautious one. It took her a year before she gained the courage to leave Tanya alone with a babysitter so that they could have a night out together, but the separation anxiety was so horrible that they had to return home twenty minutes later. And he wasn't talking about separation anxiety on Tanya's part, either. "We're only staying long enough to snap a picture of Bella getting her award. With the way that she hates attention, she'll probably scamper across the stage so quickly that we'll be able to leave within two minutes." When Mrs. Denali still didn't seem convinced, he grabbed her hands, rubbing soothing circles into her palms. "I promise that we'll be back in less than an hour. Nothing is going to happen to Tanya, and even in the extremely rare instance that something does, Irina will know exactly what to do because she's studying to be a pediatrician. That's the specific reason why you hired her to be the babysitter, remember?"
Despite her frantic state, she smiled, dimples forming beneath her crimson tinted cheeks. Her husband was always coming up with snide ways to comment on her anxious behavior. "Alright fine," she sighed, "Hurry and go call Irina before I change my mind." Mr. Denali grinned, pecking her cheek before racing downstairs.
Mrs. Denali bent down, placing a soft kiss on her baby's forehead, "Sweetie, mommy and daddy are only going to be gone for a little while. We're going to congratulate Cousin Bella for her awards, but we'll be back as soon as possible. Irina's coming over soon and if you need anything or you feel any worse, tell Irina and we'll be home immediately."
"You're leaving me?" A wrinkle formed on Tanya's forehead, "But why?" She snuggled into Mrs. Denali, wrapping her tiny arms as tightly as she could around her mother. "Please don't go. I want you and daddy to stay here with me."
Mrs. Denali shut her eyes, knowing that if she took one glance at her daughter's look of desperation, her decision to keep her promise to Bella would have been shattered. "I know sweetie, but we promised Bella that we would attend her award ceremony. If you were in Bella's position, how would you feel if Aunt Renee and Uncle Charlie broke their promise to you?"
The little girl glanced up at her mother, her eyes narrowing in an almost speculative look, like she was in search of hidden truth. Tanya fiddled with her stuffed teddy bear, understanding that no one liked broken promises, but still harboring the creeping suspicion that her parents were choosing Bella over her. "Is this 'cause Cousin Belly's smarter than me?"
Mrs. Denali blinked, her eyebrows scrunching together as she failed to realize that Tanya had always considered herself inadequate to the smart and saintly Bella. "What are you talking about, sweetie?"
"Are you leaving me 'cause Belly's smarter than me? You're prouder of her 'cause she got an award and I don't?" Tanya clearly remembered the first time that she realized Bella was smarter than her. One day she began to wonder why she was only in a level four reading, but Bella was a level one. When she herself couldn't figure it out for herself, she decided to voice her confusion to her fellow level four friend Garrett, who explained that level four was for "us stupid retards" and level one was only for the "smart goody two-shoes". To this day, ten year old Tanya was well-aware of the fact that while she still had the occasional difficulty with her multiplication, nine year old Bella was on her way to mastering long division.
Mrs. Denali wrapped her arms around her beautiful daughter, her soft voice becoming slightly more forceful, "Tanya, I don't ever want to hear you put yourself down like that ever again, you hear me?" The little girl nodded, ducking her face into her mother's side. "You are just as smart as Bella." She smoothed down her daughter's hair, " And I love both you and Bella equally. I don't know what made you think that you aren't as smart as your cousin, but you are, and I want you to know that you can achieve anything you put your mind to."
"If I'm just as smart as her, how come I don't got an award? And how come she's in higher levels than me?"
Mrs. Denali glanced away from her daughter, glaring at the wall. She appreciated that the school system gave the gifted students the opportunity to advance at a quick pace suited to their abilities, but she hated the negative effect that it had on the children who learned at an average pace. Why did the gifted children get to benefit at the expense of the average student's confidence and self-worth? She sighed, rubbing her temples, "Sweetie, you're going to get an award one day, it just all depends upon how the stars align. Today might have been Bella's day of recognition, but yours is coming real soon. You just have to keep faith and gaze up at the stars every night with hope in your eyes. Never lose that hope, T-Bear."
Tanya giggled, "Am I supposed to look at the real stars or my ceiling stars?"
Mrs. Denali grinned, tickling her little girl's side until she squealed in laughter. As a strong believer in astrology and having a love for the sky, she was proud that her daughter shared her love for the stars. On the rare clear night in rainy Forks, the family would go out into the backyard and stretch out on a blanket, gazing up at the sky. One night after Tanya expressed her wish that they could look at the sky more often, her mother granted her wish by recreating the galaxy on her bedroom's ceiling. Now, every night after her parents turned out the lights, Tanya could gaze up at the glow-in-the-dark stars and planets. Her mother's favorite planet was Jupiter, while her father's was Uranus. It only made sense that Tanya's favorite planet was the planet in between- Saturn.
Mr. Denali leaned against the doorway, watching the scene with a smile on his face. It felt like such a crime to tear the two away from each other, but he convinced himself that it would only be for one short hour. As Irina approached from behind, she placed a reassuring hand on his shoulders, "She'll be fine."
He nodded, walking over to his daughter to place a kiss on her cheek. "We have to leave now if we want to be on time, but we'll be right back. Feel better soon, T-Bear."
The couple began heading out when Mrs. Danvers glanced over at Irina. "We already gave her medicine. Check her temperature every fifteen minutes. Make sure that she doesn't get up and start running around, either. If she gets any worse, and I mean even if her temperature only rises by one point, you call us."
"Sure thing, Mrs. Denali. You have nothing to worry about- you're leaving your daughter in the best hands."
"The best hands would be her own parents," Mrs. Denali muttered beneath her breath.
Mr. Denali nudged her in the side, smiling apologetically to Irina, "You'll have to excuse her. You know how she can be when it comes to our little girl."
Irina smirked, "I kind of figured that out within the first five minutes of meeting her. I don't think NASA applicants have to go through such an extensive interview." Irina could still clearly recall how awful her interview was. Some of the questions made her blush, some made her stutter in nervousness, and some made her outraged at the invasion of privacy. She left the house feeling dejected, knowing that she had failed miserably. Imagine her surprise when she got a call back just a few days later. Over the years, Mrs. Denali had gradually warmed up to the other woman taking care of her child, but there were still moments when she regressed back into the fiercely protective mother bear.
"Bye mommy and daddy. I love you."
"Love you too, T-Bear. We'll be back soon, we promise." They waved to their daughter, slowly trudging down the stairs. They wanted nothing more than to spin around and race back up to their daughter, but they forced themselves to carry on. A promise was a promise.
As the door finally clicked shut, Irina turned to Tanya, grinning.
"So, who wants some homemade chicken noodle soup?"
"Now we would like to take a moment to honor a wonderful and intelligent young lady receiving tonight's most prestigious award. Here to accept the All-Star Award, an amazing girl who is sure to have the brightest future, is Bella Swan!" The principal began clapping, the crowd soon following, cheering so loud that her eardrums winced in agony and her cheeks protested with a nasty crimson color.
Bella scurried on stage, reaching out to receive her award, but just as her fingertips brushed the plaque, the principal snatched it out of her grasp. "Not yet, dear. You have to give a speech first."
Bella's eyes widened in horror, having no idea that it was a requirement to give a speech. If she had been told beforehand, she would have never agreed to come tonight. Maybe that's why it was kept a secret from her. She stepped towards the podium, a furious crimson tint forming on her cheeks that began slowly creeping down her neck. She gulped, "I'd, uh, I'd like to th-thank my mom and dad for, um, s-supporting me." She tugged at her braids, scouring through the crowd. As her eyes landed on her aunt and uncle, she beamed, "And my aunt and uncle. My cousin Tanya, too, even though she couldn't be here tonight." She swirled around, snatching the award away before the principle had the chance to protest or request a longer speech.
After she descended the stairs, she rushed over to her family. "You guys made it!" She crashed into Mr. and Mrs. Denali's legs, wrapping her short and chubby arms around them. Tanya and Bella really were polar opposites. Where Tanya was tall and lanky, Bella was a tad bit stubbier; it was why Tanya had nicknamed her Cousin Belly.
"Of course we did, sweetheart," Mrs. Denali brushed Bella's bangs out of her eyes, "Now smile so your parents can take a picture of us before we have to leave."
Bella frowned, hating that they had to leave so soon, but understanding that they had to go home to take care of her cousin. At least they had kept their promise. "I hope that Tanya feels better soon."
Mr. Denali patted her shoulder, "We all do, kid. Now hurry, flash me one of those killer mega-watt smiles. None of that shy stuff, got it?"
Bella giggled, exposing her full row of crooked teeth just as Renee clicked the camera's button. Mr. and Mrs. Denali hugged Bella, saying their goodbyes. As they rushed towards the exit, Renee called out to her older sibling, "Be careful sis, the rain is pouring down pretty hard out there."
Mrs. Denali tossed back a smirk, "Are you seriously telling me to be careful? Have we not met before?"
Mr. Denali chuckled, "Yeah, and that's exactly why you're not driving. You'll have us creeping down the road slower than a tortoise."
A final laugh was shared, but Renee couldn't shake the eerie feeling that was creeping in on her. "I mean it, though. Be careful."
"Sure thing, sis. I love you and I'll call you as soon as we get home to tell you how Tanya's doing."
"Alright, I love you, too." Renee waved, but her sister and brother-in-law had already exited. She sighed, glancing over at Bella, "So, who wants ice cream for being a big old smarty pants?"
She giggled, hopping up and down, clapping, "I do! I do!"
"And you said that I drive like a turtle?" Mrs. Denali quirked an eyebrow at her husband, "Why are you driving so slow tonight? It's almost like you don't want us to get home to Tanya."
"Well, it's pouring down right now, so unless you want to wind up in the bushes somewhere and being permanently separated from Tanya, I suggest that you let me drive at this pace." He squinted, "I can barely even see the yellow line."
She huffed, "I told you that you needed glasses."
Combined with his agitation at not being able to see, his unusual state of high caution, and his wife's constantly negative attitude tonight, he snapped, "Would you stop nagging for one minute? I can't see the road because of the weather, not because of my vision. If you think that you can do so much better, I'll pull over right now and you can drive." He tore his eyes away from the road to glower at her.
She returned his glare, "Fine, pull over. I don't understand why you just didn't let me drive in the first place." He recklessly yanked the wheel to the side and came to a screeching halt, the rain making them slide a few feet forward rather than abruptly stopping. "You stupid son of a bitch, what the hell is wrong with you? You're going to get us killed!" She went to swing open her door, but he stopped her.
"Stay there," he ordered in a gruff tone, reaching into the backseat for an umbrella.
"Excuse me, but who do you think you are? You can't tell me what to-" He got out and slammed his door shut, effectively cutting off her sentence. Defeated, she mumbled, "-do." She watched as he raced around to her door and opened it for her, motioning for her to climb out as he held the umbrella over her. Embarrassed, she smiled apologetically at him, "It would have only taken me a few seconds to run around to the driver's side. You didn't have to do that, you know."
He shrugged, continuing to protect her from the rain as they walked to the driver's side, "I didn't want you to get wet. I figured one sick person was enough." A blush tinted her cheeks, and even though it was dark, he could somehow sense it. He brushed his thumbs across it, teasing, "Now there's the reason I fell in love with you."
She leaned against the door, shyly glancing up at him with a girlish grin, "That the only reason?"
"Mhmm," he leaned in close, "Among other things." Just as he was about to place his lips upon hers, a truck horn blared. They glanced up in time to see two high beams directly in their path. A lump of dread twisted in their stomachs, their hearts beginning to pump furiously as their arteries clenched in preparation to flee. Bodies stiffened. Eyes widened. Pupils dilated.
They were surrounded by light.
And then everything went black.
Tanya glanced over at the clock. The hands had moved a lot since her parents had left, and even though she couldn't quite tell time yet, she knew that a large amount of time had passed. If she was smart like Bella, she could have known exactly how much time, but she wasn't smart and she certainly wasn't like Bella, either.
Her parents would keep their promise to her, but not to their own daughter? They promised that they wouldn't be gone long, and it was such a simple promise, so she didn't understand why they couldn't keep it.
Her parents would be home right now if it wasn't for her and her stupid award ceremony. To make matters worse, a thunderstorm was passing through, and Tanya despised them. She wanted her parents here so that they could build an indoor tent to crawl into and shield their eyes from the lightning.
Stupid, stupid Belly. This is all her fault.
Unlike most kids, Tanya feared lightening more than thunder. Lightening was an angry force that split through the sky, damaging all of the stars that she was so fond of, forcing them into hiding.
As a clap of thunder echoed through the air, a knock on the door sounded. Irina jogged over, peeking through the peep hole before opening it. Even though Tanya couldn't see who was there, she knew as soon as Irina greeted, "Hello officers, what can I do for you?"
Tanya crept over to the door, peeking up at the officers from behind Irina's legs, watching as they removed their hats. Why would they do that if it was raining? They were going to catch a cold if they let their heads get wet. The taller officer cleared his throat, "Is this the Denali residence?"
"Yes, but I'm afraid Mr. and Mrs. Denali aren't home right now. I'm only the sitter." Irina wasn't particularly worried about the cops. She knew the Denali's were upstanding citizens and the officers had probably only stopped by to talk to them about something minor. She remembered that the bushes out front had grown quite big and reasoned that the cops were probably here to inform the Denali's that their bush was growing over their property line and needed to be trimmed.
But, somewhere in the back of her mind, she began to wonder why they wore such grim expressions.
The officers remained rooted to the doorway. As Tanya whimpered when a gust of bitter wind swept in, they turned towards the little girl, sympathy flashing in their eyes. Instinctively, Irina pushed Tanya closer behind her, shielding her from the two men who seemed to be barring more important information than she had originally anticipated. "Is everything alright, officers?"
"Ma'am," they glanced down at Tanya once again, "We would like to speak with you in private, if you don't mind." Officers were told to deliver this type of news in a formal and objective tone, completely respectful, but they couldn't fathom using such an attitude with the little girl. It was best if the sitter was the one to break the news. Unlike them, she could provide solace and sympathy.
Irina gulped, but attempted to keep her anxiety at bay as she turned towards Tanya, "Hey, why don't you go upstairs and warm up that Easy-Bake Oven you got for your birthday? I'll be up in a second and we can make some cookies for your parents when they get back."
Tanya took one last glance at the officers, narrowing her eyes in scrutiny. She gave up after a few seconds, begrudgingly accepting that she couldn't determine why they were on her porch. They looked as if some of the sand from the sandbox had slipped down their pants, especially when Irina mentioned cookies for her parents. Maybe it was because policemen liked donuts and were repulsed by other sweets like cookies.
As she trudged up the stairs and into her room, Tanya happened to glance over at her window. She gasped once she saw that it had stopped storming, and even as the night sky was still shrouded by heavy, dark clouds, a lone star sparkled in the sky directly beside a crescent-shaped moon. Crescent-shaped moons were her and her parent's favorite moon. During their nighttime gazing sessions, they would always tilt their heads to the side so that the moon resembled a smile.
Tanya beamed, grabbing her telescope to peer at the peculiar and rare sight. It was so amazing, so beautiful that she wanted to freeze the sky in its current position. Hurriedly, she began digging through her drawers for the disposable camera that her mother had given her, fearing that the image would disappear the second she turned her back. Once she finally captured the moment, she sighed in relief. Her room may have been a total mess as a result of her search, and her parents would undoubtedly be angry with her, but she knew that they would be so amazed once they saw the picture that she had taken. She only hoped her finger hadn't gotten in the way like it did when she took pictures sometimes.
As Irina rounded the corner, Tanya beamed at her, "'Rina, look, look!" Hallow eyes turned to stare at Tanya, but she remained unfazed, victoriously floating in her cloud of amazement. "Look outside, 'Rina! It just stormed, but a star is out. I took a picture jus' in case it goes away before mommy and daddy get back, but I really hope they get back soon so I can show them. It's so pretty, 'Rina!"
Irina tried to force a smile, prayed that the corners of her cheeks would shift upwards for the sake of the little girl, but it was a fruitless effort. Tanya was so happy, she always was, but Irina couldn't help but wonder exactly what would happen to the cheerful little girl after tonight. She wondered when she would be able to smile again, if she would ever smile again. As she approached the cozy bed in the center of the room, she patted a spot beside her, "Tanya, would you come here for a second?"
Tanya wearily glanced at Irina. Why was she talking like that, so uncommonly serious? And why did her eyes have streaks of red in them, a stark contrast to her sickly pale skin? Tanya could have sworn that she didn't look like that when she first got here. As she sat down beside Irina on the bed, she glanced over at her, "What's a matter, 'Rina? Did the police hurt you or something?"
"No Tanya, I'm fine, I just- I need… Sweetie, I have to tell you something, but before I do, I want you to know that I'm always going to be here for you. I love you so much, and I'm not the only one who loves you very much, you have Uncle Charlie and Aunt Renee, too. We all love you so much and we'll be here whenever you need us for whatever reason."
"I got Cousin Belly too, don't forget," Tanya piped in. Even though she sometimes felt slighted by her younger cousin, Tanya knew it wasn't on purpose. Mama had always said that everyone had their strengths. Bella was smart, and Tanya… Well, Tanya hadn't quite figured it out, yet. She knew she was good at something, though. She would find out her destiny when the time was right, just like her mommy had said, when the stars aligned.
Irina choked out a laugh, "Yes, of course, you'll always have your cousin Bella." A stray tear cascaded down her cheek, but she swiped it away before Tanya could notice. She cleared her throat, "Tanya, you know that your parents went out tonight, right?" It was a stupid question, she knew that, but she wasn't exactly sure how to break the news to a ten year old. Taking it step by step seemed like the proper way to go.
Tanya nodded, "Yeah, they went to Belly's award ceremony," she frowned, "They promised they'd be back soon, but they're still gone. I wish they was back so that I can show them the star!"
"Well, sweetie, the uh- the weather was pretty bad out tonight…"
"I know, that's why it's so weird that the stars is out! It's shining so bright, too."
Irina opened her mouth, preparing to unleash the emotional dagger, but the front door opened downstairs.
She sighed in relief, knowing that Tanya's aunt and uncle were surely a better fit for breaking the news to her. She had called them as soon as the police left her porch, knowing that they would be more sympathetic, better equipped to determine how the news should be broken to Tanya.
"Bella, come back here!" Renee's broken voice called out as a pair of tiny footsteps raced up the stairs, heavy footsteps lagging a few paces behind.
When Bella popped her tear-stained, crimson splotched face in Tanya's doorway, she pushed back her disheveled braids, sobbing, "T-tanya, I'm so-so s-sorry!" Her voice was overtaken by sobs, almost to the point where one couldn't decipher what she was saying, yet her next sentence eerily bolted out with perfect clarity, "I can't believe uncle and auntie are dead!"
The final word rang through the air just as Renee and Charlie reached their daughter a second too late. Irina clasped a hand over her mouth in horror, Renee's shoulders collapsed in defeat as sobs wracked throughout her body, and Charlie wrapped his arms around his wife as he attempted to stay calm and collected.
Tanya glanced at Irina.
Then at Charlie.
And then at Renee.
Finally, her eyes rested on Bella. She cocked her head to the side, "Dead?"
Tanya remembered her first encounter with death, recalling the day she found her hamster stiff in the bottom of its cage. She had called her father upstairs to help her sick pet, but he gently explained that Herbert the Hamster had passed on. She didn't exactly know much about death, but she knew that she never saw Herbert after that. They had sealed him inside a shoebox and buried him under their tree out front. Herbert was gone forever.
"My parents are gone?"
Hesitant nods were the only response, four pair of eyes carefully inspecting her, waiting for her complete breakdown.
"They're not coming back." Tanya's tone was flat and lifeless. Even she herself wasn't sure whether it was a statement or question. She gulped, not completely being able to process how she had just seen her parents an hour ago, and even though they had promised that they would be back soon, they were never, ever coming back. She wondered if her parents were lying stiff somewhere like her hamster or maybe buried in a big shoebox, perhaps at Bella's ceremony where they had been last.
Tanya's teeth clenched, her tiny hands balling into fists. Her parents had died while going to Bella's ceremony. This was all her fault.
Stupid. Freaking. Belly.
Her eyes hardened as her gaze froze on Bella, daggers silently stabbing every entire inch of Bella's body, wanting her to pay for taking the lives of the two most important people in her life. She wanted to scream at her, yank out her stupid frizzy braids, slap those pale and disgustingly chubby cheeks, but all she could do was stand there.
A sob broke past her lips, her furious glare morphing into a broken and blank stare reflecting her empty and hallow insides. Bella cowered away from her older cousin, backing into the comfort of her parents' legs, but it didn't deter Tanya's fixated stare as she declared the verdict that would forever haunt the family for the rest of their existence.
Her soft and girlishly youthful voice suddenly hardened.
"You killed my parents."