A/N: This is one of those plot bunnies that would just not be silent. It hit me while struggling to work through the last few chapters of "What Drives Her", and while I'd hoped to finish WDH completely before sharing this with you, I've grown impatient. :)
A big, huge thank you to SueBee0619 for stepping up to the beta plate for me, and to 107YearOldVirgin for recommending her! Thanks go as well to StellaBlueBella & ElektraLane for pre-reading the early chapters for me. What can I say? I wouldn't have been brave enough to share this at all without your combined support! xxoo
Warning! This story is AU-All Human, & rated M for a reason. Some scenes, including the opening scene of this story, describe graphic events and/or gun violence which may be upsetting to some readers. Please read with caution.
Disclaimer: I do NOT own Twilight, Christina Perri's song entitled, "Arms", or the Olympic Games.
I stare straight ahead. Frozen. The sight before me is beyond grotesque. Horror movies have nothing on real life. I realize now that even the first-rate films have failed to capture what human blood looks like when it's spilled in this volume; thick, dark, flowing freely, and congealing as it goes. They've failed to properly duplicate the sickening gurgling sound of air rasping through a gaping chest wound. They cannot convey the scent of metal and salt hanging heavy in the air.
I've never even noticed that blood has a scent to it before. It does, and it twists my stomach. Or maybe it's the sight of the utterly still bodies in the room that makes me retch.
My father's face flashes through my consciousness and I know for a fact that this was never his intent when he taught me to use a firearm. He educated me about guns because, in his job as a law enforcement officer, they were going to be in our home. He wanted me to be safe. He wanted me to know –not to have to wonder- how they worked. He wanted me to understand what made them dangerous and experience the power of them. He wanted me to learn how to act around them and how not to act around them. And he taught me all of those things hands-on.
In the hope of preventing a future tragedy born out of mere curiosity, he put a gun in my hands for the first time when I was little more than ten years old. It gave me the respect my father desired for me to have by scaring the ever loving tar out of me as soon as I pulled the trigger. That might have been it for me. Boom! –one shot and I'd be too scared to ever touch a gun again. Most kids would have that reaction. Not me. Not after looking out at the target to see that the single shot I'd taken had gone right through the bulls-eye.
I look over at my dad now, hoping for a moment to see the look he gets in his eyes when I've made the perfect shot. I regret it immediately and the bile rises in my throat. I barely avoid vomiting and back up against the wall, sliding to the floor in a heap. My father's loving and handsome face is twisted in a grimace. It's practically unrecognizable as belonging to the man who both coached me to an Olympic gold medal and sang me to sleep when I was scared the night before my first day of Kindergarten. His once bright eyes are now dull, but open and locked on my mother.
I wonder if he was hoping I could save her. I know he thought he could always count on me. And even though I did manage to get to the small revolver he kept hidden in our foyer, I know I let him down. Then again, the quick draw was never my event. My father knew that. I hope he would have been proud of me just the same. I did manage to nail the son of a bitch who shot my mom, even if it was a moment too late. If only she hadn't fought for me. If only she'd stayed still.
I can't bring myself to look anywhere near her. Her face during the final moment of her life is already etched in my memory; her expression desperate with fear and rage, her normally bright blue eyes wide and reddened from tears. I'll never forget how they lost focus as the gunshots rang out. I'll never be able to erase the weak, but brave smile she tried to offer me as she sunk to the ground.
I feel my eyes gravitating towards that spot. Knowing I don't want to see her like that again, I try to find something else to focus on. I realize the television is still on. I know that it must have been my beautiful, carefree mother watching tonight because one of the judges from So You Think You Can Dance is waxing philosophical about contemporary jazz while a couple of dancers in wild costumes are smiling ear to ear. The girl is wiping tears from her eyes.
I look away and blink. Odd, I don't notice any of my own tears falling. I frown, knowing I should be hysterical right now. I should be crying, screaming, wailing for God and everyone else to hear. But I can't. I can't feel anything at all.
I think I'm might be in shock. The more I think about it, I realize that must be the case. I try to cry, but I can't. I try to look away from the dark red blood that's now spreading across the floor. I try to move away from it, I try to lower my arms, I desperately try to drop the weapon in my hands, but I can't. I can't move a muscle.
When the police finally show up, I'm still sitting slumped against the wall with my father's revolver trained on the exact spot where his killer previously stood. I think I hear someone mention the FBI. I think I hear someone gasp, "No, not Charlie". I think I hear my name as well, but I'm not sure. Now in addition to being unable to move, the rest of my senses are dull.
The custom handgun I bought for my father for his last birthday is pried from my fingers. Someone shines a light in my eyes and speaks to me. I blink.
The eerie calm of the last long minutes is shattered and the room becomes disturbingly chaotic. There are more voices now. More lights shining in my eyes. I begin shivering as a dizzy feeling overwhelms me. A blanket is placed over me. I'm lifted and moved into a chair. My name is called again. I nod.
Yes, I'm Detective Charlie Swan's daughter.
Yes, my name is Isabella.
There are more questions. I don't know the answers. It leads to more questions.
No, I don't think this is my blood.
No, I'm not hurt.
If I was hurt I would be in pain, right? But I can't feel anything. I'm so cold.
There are more questions, more voices, but suddenly I'm not only cold and dizzy, but I feel like I can't breathe. I feel like I'm falling.
I try to push out of the arms that catch me. They feel wrong. Foreign. They are not my father's arms. I want these arms to let me go, but I lack the strength to make them. I suck in a gasping breath and a single agonized cry escapes my lips before I mercifully surrender to the darkness.
I feel like I'm finally waking up from a horrific nightmare. Except, when I open my eyes to the muted dim of another grey and rainy day, I remember that the nightmare is real and won't end, not even in my waking hours.
It's been eight weeks since the night my life as I'd known it ended. It's been a little less than two weeks since I stopped reliving the event over and over every night in my dreams. The medication Dr. Cullen recommended for me after I arrived here took some time to work to its full effect. Even once it kicked in, he warned me that it may be a little longer for my body to recover from being so sleep deprived. I stretch beneath the sheets and realize he was right. I do feel better, which sort of irks me. I've had a full-on case of survivor's guilt and part of me doesn't want to be free of the dreams that replay the horrors of that dark November night.
The night my parents were murdered in cold blood, the night I let them die.
I sigh and tell myself again that it's not healthy for me to think about it like that. I know there's nothing else I could have done. I also know that torturing myself will do no good. I think idly that my parents wouldn't want me to do so. And I'm reminded regularly that if I want to bring those who are responsible for their deaths to justice, then I have to stay sane, healthy, and safe.
I look out the window and wonder again why that means that I also had to be sent to live in the rainiest, dreariest, most depressing town I've ever been in. Maybe it wouldn't be so depressing if I were used to living in the cold and the rain. But I'm not.
I miss Phoenix. I miss the heat and the dry. I miss the sun and the white-blue sky. I miss the desert, and dry air, and the color brown. I miss the little stucco house I bought not far from my parents' place. I miss my xeriscaped lawn and my solar-heated pool. I also miss my king size bed quite a lot too. I stretch in my new bed again and think there's just about nothing I wouldn't give for one more night in my Tempur-Pedic. Then I think that's not even close to being true.
There's only one thing I would give anything for, and that would be to have my mom and dad back. To have never had to set foot in tiny Forks, Washington.
I roll my eyes. Who names a town Forks? I get the whole thing with the fork in the two rivers, but it just sounds weird. And I feel weird saying it. Almost as weird as I feel living here, or pretending to be a seventeen year-old foster child.
There's a quick knock on the door and a soft voice reminding me that I have school today. Reminding me that I am indeed impersonating a teenager. Reminding me that I'm no longer a twenty-three year old college graduate and former Olympic champion, that I no longer have my own life. I have no job, no family, no opportunity to go to another Olympics. I don't even have my name anymore. It's all gone.
My entire life has been replaced by a charade; a necessary charade, but a charade nonetheless.
Groaning, I sit up. I catch sight of my reflection in the mirror across the room and think it's a good thing that my new "foster parents" haven't seen me like this. Surely the dark circles and bags under my eyes would give me away. I'm still not convinced that anyone will buy that I'm under eighteen. But the U.S. Marshals assigned to protect me seem to think so and are convinced it's the best way to keep me alive. They've never lost anyone who trusted in and cooperated with them, so I have to believe that this might just be crazy enough to work.
From the moment the authorities arrived on the night my parents were murdered, I was considered to be a key witness in a long-standing federal case against an internationally wanted Romanian crime family. Apparently they had recently begun activities in Arizona and one of my father's officers stumbled across a gold-mine of incriminating information. When the officer involved showed Charlie what he found, my father made a few calls around town and did some digging before turning everything over to the feds. Somehow, the Romanians found out my dad was asking after them and decided to try and buy him off at gunpoint. When he refused, they threatened my mother, and when I revealed my presence in the house that night it all went horribly wrong.
My stomach twists in knots at the memories and I'm glad that I have something else to focus on for the day. Not that the thought of going back to high school doesn't have me worried, because it does. I remember it all too well from the first time around: the cliques, the drama, the uninteresting homework. Then there were the patronizing teachers who I'd always had a hard time being patient with even when I went through high school the first time. How was I supposed to deal with that now that I'd been to college? I'm old enough to be working on my Master's degree, not relearning the square root of pi.
I shower and dress, making sure my attire is suitably appropriate for a seventeen year-old. It's my first day, so I choose casual clothes –some jeans and a plaid shirt, making sure to wear long sleeves underneath since I'm likely to freeze to death in this climate. I hastily dry my hair and keep it down, but put in a narrow headband. I apply only a touch of clear mascara and a little lip-gloss to my face. I feel almost naked as I evaluate myself in the mirror. The naked feeling isn't for the lack of make-up as I rarely wear a lot anyway; I'm just afraid these kids are going to see right through me. They'll never believe I'm one of them. Will they?
I pick up my bag and head downstairs to deal with my foster parents first. At least they don't expect me to act like any other normal teenager. I'm thankful that they at least know some version of the truth wherein I was orphaned after witnessing my parents' deaths. They know I've been traumatized. They just don't know the extent of it. They don't know how or why my parents died, or that I myself shot two people in the process. They don't know that I'm a federal witness still at risk. And if we're all very lucky, they'll never know.
When I reach the kitchen, Esme Cullen is busy washing some dishes. She's made breakfast and what looks like a lunch for me, which is sitting out on the counter. I wish she wouldn't go to any trouble at all where I'm concerned. I imagine that I'm no different from any other foster child in that respect. The fact that the last person to make me a lunch for school died not long ago just hurts. That seems to happen whenever she does something even remotely mother-like. I notice she's made coffee and set up her laptop on the kitchen table. A pang of grief hits me seeing that as well. My father often used our family table as his desk. It drove my mom crazy since he had a real desk in the den.
"Good morning, Anna Bella," Esme says, interrupting my memories. She turns from the sink and smiles kindly at me. I have to give her credit. Were I an actual teenager in need of a new mother figure, she'd be perfect. She's patient and kind and never pushes me too hard. I wish I could relax more around her, but I feel odd and out of place most the time. I also feel guilty that I'm living a lie right underneath her nose.
"Morning," I say quietly.
"Carlisle wanted me to wish you luck today," she answers brightly. "He had to leave for the hospital already, of course."
I nod and say thank you.
"I felt like having a real breakfast this morning since I have a meeting at lunchtime. I made scrambled eggs, turkey bacon, and whole wheat toast. The eggs have some veggies in them. I hope that's okay."
"That's fine, thank you." I try to smile, but it's hard. All I really want is a strong cup of coffee, a banana, and to go home. But I have a feeling that telling Esme any one of those things would make her frown and I just can't bear that.
As I take the plate she's offering me in my hands, I wonder not for the first time how she will feel when and if she ever finds out that I'm not who I say I am. Or who the state says I am, I suppose. Will she and Dr. Cullen be upset that I'm not really Anna Bella Dwyer? Will they feel used and resent ever letting me into their home? What if the people who are looking for me find me and they end up hurt? Will they hate me?
I decided when I came here two weeks ago that it's less likely they'll hate me if they don't get too attached to me. I also decided it would help if I lie to them as little as possible, which means interacting with them only when it's necessary. I've always been a quiet person, but since my parent's deaths I've allowed myself to grow more introverted. I think that will work to my advantage with the Cullens. They're wonderful people, they really deserve better, but I just think it's easier and safer to keep them at arm's length.
We finish breakfast in companionable silence, and Esme walks me out to the car they've given me to drive to and from school. It's a Volvo, which makes me want to laugh for some reason. I guess they wanted to provide the safest possible car for driving on the wet roads here. In my case however, I need more than a five star safety rating to keep me safe. I'm fairly sure I need bullet-proof glass as well.
Unaware of my thoughts, Esme smiles and hands me my lunch.
"So," she says softly, "You already have your schedule, but check-in with the office when you get there. Mrs. Cope was going to try and see if she could move you into another math class, remember?"
I start to object, but a wave of her hand stops me.
"I know you said you don't mind being in our son's class, but he and Carlisle both agreed that it could be construed as a conflict of interest for him to be your teacher since you're now, to some degree, an extended part of the family. Never mind the fact that you two haven't even met yet since he just had to go skiing in Colorado for New Year's." She rolls her eyes amusedly. "Anyway, if they can't switch you, I'm sure it will be fine, but at least we can say we tried."
I nod and move to get in the car.
"Have a wonderful day today, Anna Bella."
"Thank you. You too," I answer.
I start the engine and head down the winding driveway towards the two-lane highway that will take me into town. While I drive, I think about the Cullen's grown son. Edward, now a high school math teacher and Navy Reservist, came to live with Dr. and Mrs. Cullen roughly eighteen years ago when he was not quite eleven years old. His biological father had been in the Navy (an obvious source of inspiration) but died in a training accident when Edward was just a toddler. Following his father's death, his mother became severely depressed and eventually ended up leaving him with her own mother to be cared for. He was then put into the system after the elderly woman died.
That same year, after nearly a decade of not being able to conceive a child of their own, Carlisle and Esme made the decision to adopt. They were originally hoping to bring home a baby or toddler, but while visiting the adoption agency, they'd both been affected by the staggering number of older children waiting for good homes. Carlisle pointed out ten year-old Edward's picture on a bulletin board and Esme was immediately taken with him. When they met their bond was instantaneous. Well... according to Carlisle anyway. Of course, that didn't mean things had always been perfect for them as a family, but eventually Edward adjusted to his new life and even asked the Cullens to legally adopt him. In the years that followed, they took on two other foster children who eventually became theirs as well.
Emmett McCarty came to live with the Cullens about four years after Edward did. The boy was just twelve when Edward witnessed him shoplifting granola bars from the sporting goods store in town. When Edward confronted him, Emmett bolted from the store and ended up getting hit by a car in the parking lot. Edward was apparently guilt-stricken and felt responsible for the accident. He lied to the paramedics, telling them he was the boy's brother in order to go with him to the hospital and once there, Edward ran to Carlisle and told him the whole story. While Dr. Cullen tended to Emmett's injuries, he discovered evidence of a history of abuse and neglect. Several well-placed phone calls and the Cullens were made his temporary guardians. Several months later, they began proceedings to adopt him.
Then, two years after Emmett joined their family, the Cullens received some shocking news. It turned out that Edward's biological mother had given birth to another child shortly after disappearing from his life. Sadly, when the woman finally succumbed to her debilitating depression not long before Edward's seventeenth birthday, he was discovered to be Victoria Masen's only known family. Of course, Esme and Carlisle jumped at the chance to take their son's sister in, but the girl –who preferred to go by Tori - hadn't come as willingly as the two boys. It took every ounce of patience and love Esme and Carlisle had to care for the beautiful but obstinate thirteen year-old.
I finally reach the end of the long driveway, and pull myself back to the present before looking both ways on the highway and pulling out. I spot the Cullen's new "neighbor" across the road as I proceed. He's fiddling with something in the back of his pick-up, which is stopped by his mailbox. The man glances up at me and I nod once in greeting, knowing he's been waiting for me.
Deputy U.S Marshal Jasper Whitlock is working undercover, supposedly having moved to Forks about a week prior to my placement with the Cullens. Esme and Carlisle believe he's just the guy who bought the old house across the street in order to fix it up and sell it for a profit. Of course, the truth is, his purpose here has nothing at all to do with real estate and everything to do with keeping me safe.
Deputy Whitlock gets in his truck as I make the turn onto the highway and he follows me to school. He keeps going straight when I turn into the lot, but I know he'll be close by to see how I do. Once my identity here appears to be accepted as fact, he'll be on his way to protect and shelter the next witness in need. It makes me nervous to think of being on my own, but I'm well aware the government can't afford to have their U.S. Marshals acting as one-on-one bodyguards for every last witness they protect.
After I arrive at school, the start of my day is a little rough. I feel like an imposter from the moment I step out of my borrowed Volvo. The rest of the cars in the high school parking lot are what Charlie had affectionately called "beaters". My first car was a beater. The Volvo I'm driving now isn't even close. It's shiny and silver, and it garners attention that I seriously want to avoid. The students stare at me and I can't help but wonder if my cover is already blown.
When I reach the office, I'm informed that there is no room for me anywhere else but in Edward Cullen's trigonometry class. I feel a surge of anxiety knowing he'd prefer I not be there. I also cringe a little just remembering how much I hated trig the first time around. After third period English, I spend my walk to fourth period math hoping that I haven't forgotten everything I learned about sines, cosines and tangents. And were functions learned in trigonometry? Or was that calculus? I am still contemplating this as I turn to walk into the classroom with my head down.
In a split second, I find myself flat on my back. I'm completely stunned, lying on the floor, and having a difficult time inhaling a breath.
Even as the pain starts to register, I'm wondering what the hell just happened. After a lifetime of being somewhat uncoordinated, looking at my feet while I walk is usually sufficient to keep me from falling over. I'm puzzled as to why that wasn't the case this time. It starts to make a little sense when a face materializes in my field of vision and begins to apologize profusely.
"Are you okay? I am so sorry, I didn't see you. Are you alright?"
I nod breathlessly and try to focus my eyes on the vision hovering above me. I must have hit my head pretty hard because the sexiest man I've ever seen is kneeling over me and sliding his hand beneath my head. He's way too good-looking for this to be real.
"Can you sit up, sweetheart? Did you hit your head?" he asks. I don't answer right away so he flexes his fingers against my scalp and runs his eyes over my supine form. I shiver involuntarily and my mouth falls open a little. Soft green eyes meet my brown ones and I'm rendered both speechless as well as incapable of looking away.
"Mr. Cullen? What happened here?" I hear a voice ask. I think it might be Ms. Meyer who teaches ninth and tenth grade English. I met her when I registered for classes last week. "Is she alright?" she asks.
Professor Sexy doesn't answer right way, nor does he break my gaze until we hear someone else shriek.
"Oh, my gosh! What did you do to the new girl, Mr. Cullen!"
Mr. Cullen, my sort of foster brother who I realize I've called Professor Sexy in my head, looks down the hall with a sharp expression. "Nothing. Just go on to class. Now."
His words and the feeling of another set of hands on me, bring me back from whatever daze I was in. My face colors in embarrassment and I sit up with Ms. Meyer's assistance.
"I'm sorry," I stammer. "I'm fine."
Mr. Cullen and Ms. Meyer both look at me and frown.
"Are you sure?" she asks.
"Maybe we should have that bump on your head checked out," he says.
I answer them both in order. "I'm fine. And my head's fine." I rub it, just to be sure. "If it still hurts later, I'll just ask your father to take a look at it," I add specifically for Mr. Cullen.
When I glance up I see that he has paled considerably. "You're Anna Bella?" he asks, his voice cracking over the name.
Ms. Meyer laughs quietly behind me. "Who else would she be, Edward? It's not like we get new students here every day."
Edward... No, not Edward, I tell myself. Mr. Cullen takes a moment to process what the other teacher said and then smirks. It's lopsided, and adorable, and I want to see him do it again. Just the thought makes my face turn red and I wonder what is wrong with me.
"Yeah, I guess you have a point," Mr. Cullen says and offers me his hand to help me stand. "Welcome to Forks High School, Anna Bella. I'm sorry that we met this way."
I stare at his hand a little too long and Ms. Meyer pats my shoulder. "Come on, kiddo. If you're not hurt, you need to get up. Class is about to start."
I know she's right, so I grasp onto Mr. Cullen's hand and he pulls me up. When our eyes meet again, it's like the rest of the world has fallen away. I can feel his touch send waves of pleasure throughout my entire body and it's wonderful, but also completely terrifying. I pull away and rush off to into the classroom, somehow getting to a desk in the back without making a fool of myself again.
The hour goes by slowly, the ache in my head growing as the minutes wear on. I'm relieved when class wraps up and Mr. Cullen gets ready to dismiss us. When the bell rings, I rise to go straight to my locker for some Tylenol before lunch.
"Miss Dwyer. Could I speak to you for a moment?" Mr. Cullen asks before I've taken two steps. I'm getting better about responding to my alias and barely hesitate when he calls me.
Turning slowly, I feel my heart start to pound in my chest as the rest of the students leave. Anxiety causes me to start shaking slightly; the feeling of not knowing what he wants from me is sickening. Is this about our awkward introduction? Maybe my lack of participation in class today? Or does he see right through me and is already suspicious that I'm not really seventeen?
"Yes?" I ask when I get to his desk. He stands and comes around to lean against the side.
"Is your head okay?"
"Yes," I lie.
"Okay, that's good."
He's quiet for a moment and looks to the door briefly before he speaks again.
"Um, I just wanted to introduce myself properly. I think my mother would have my hide for knocking you off your feet like I did and leaving it at that."
He smirks again like he did earlier and my stupid mouth falls open in response. I take a deep breath in through my nose before I can manage a response.
"That's okay," I say unsteadily. "I won't... I won't tell Esme if you don't."
He chuckles and his smirk grows into a lopsided smile that takes my breath away. "Thank you," he says. "I appreciate that."
I can't answer, but just grin back dumbly. He's got this whole thing going for him like he's freakin' Tom Cruise in Top Gun, only much taller and hotter. I can totally see him as a hot shot Navy pilot and wonder what he did in the Navy. I also wonder what would make him want to come back to a rainy little town like this after living the military life. There's no hint of the reason in his brilliant eyes, and I have to shake my head to try and clear it as their green depths swim with amusement and something else I can't even identify.
Eventually his gaze flickers to the door behind me again, and I'm released from the power of his crooked, smirky smile.
"I should let you get to lunch," he says staring over my shoulder for a moment. "We can get to know each other a little more some other time. And I'm sorry again for what happened before class. What a way to meet, huh?"
"Yeah," I say, blushing.
He's quiet for a moment.
"Alright, well off you go," he says, moving back behind his desk. "See you tomorrow, Anna Bella."
"It's Bella," I say without thinking.
"I'm sorry?" Edward asks, his eyebrows raised.
"I...um." I briefly think about lying, but then I realize I don't want to lie to him. "It's just Bella. Unless I'm in trouble."
He smiles and my breath quickens. "Okay, Bella then. We'll see you tomorrow."
I nod and bite my lip as I make my way from the classroom, somehow finding my way back to my locker. I take two Tylenol even though I'm distracted from my headache by the myriad of other feelings that are pulsing through me, the most dominant being bewilderment.
Why did I do that? Why is this happening? I wonder. Why now? Why him?
And most importantly, why when I need to stay numb for the sake of everyone involved, do I meet someone who may very well make me feel more than I've ever felt before?
Next update in a couple of days. Thanks for reading!
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