I look up from the novel in my hands to watch as they bring in a new kid, the boy who is my age and yet is not. I stare at him, taking note of his ruffled hair—it's too long, they'll cut it—and his eyes, dark and deep and resplendent. There's nothing they'll be able to do about those unless they force contacts on him.
He doesn't see me. I didn't expect him to. It's our job to blend in, everywhere, even among each other, and I am wonderful at blending in.
"Melissa." I look up and over to my right, closing my book carefully as I stand. The man at the end of the hallway jerks his head, ushering me into the plush office, and I gratefully fall into the seat he indicates, sliding off the heels I was forced to wear today.
"Sir," I say, nodding respectfully as he sits behind his desk. "You wanted to see me?"
"Your new identity," he tells me, dropping a folder on the desk between us. Interested, I lean forward and pick it up. He's quiet as I browse through it.
Isabella Swan. Brown hair, brown eyes. Age nineteen. Junior, University of Washington, English literature major. From a city I've never heard of in Colorado.
I can do nineteen. I'm glad I still can. Even if it means I get carded. And I can do English. I've always been fond of reading and writing. If I weren't what I am now, I'd probably be in that spot instead.
"Assignment?" I ask, closing it and setting it aside. I'll read my new biography later, when they're dying my hair and creating my new persona. I'm a little sad to get rid of the bright red I've been saddled with for the past month and a half.
"Protection, guidance," he tells me.
I arch an eyebrow. Usually I'm the one kicking ass, not the one covering. "Oh?"
He turns the computer screen to face me, scrolling down. I'm surprised to recognize the guy I'd seen being escorted outside. "His new name is Edward Masen. His father was an agent—he'd been compromised last week. We've not heard from him since, and the boy's apartment was raided this morning. We brought him in. Getting him out of here. He'll disappear, but he'll need someone to help. This is where you come in, Miss Swan."
Miss Swan. My new name. I wonder how I'll work on that later. Graceful? Pretty? Fierce?
"You'll be rooming together in campus housing. He doesn't know much, apparently, so we're telling him that you are in the same situation as he. You are not to let him know you're an agent, Miss Swan. He may talk to you—sympathize, cover your role and make sure you cover him.
"You'll have all your classes together. He actually is an English Literature major, so study up. They're expecting you in design in half an hour. The rest of your briefing is in your folder. Burn it when you're done. The electronic copy is hidden in your computer. You leave tomorrow—be here at four am. Dismissed, agent."
I slip the heels back on and nod at him, businesslike. "I'll keep you updated, Sir."
Alice, the middle aged woman who usually fixes me up, is waiting for me in design. She smiles at me, takes my new description, studies it, studies me, and then ushers me to a seat. "Brown hair… hmmm… I think it's best if we cut some of this off too," she says, lifting the impeccably curled bright red hair I've grown so fond of. "We'll permanently straighten the rest and then dye it."
I close my eyes and let the team around me work. The fake nails are popping off, my real nails being fixed up. Someone is waxing my lip, and working on my eyebrows—it'd be a rookie mistake to forget the red eyebrows. I wonder if they'll bother working down below—they did that once, when they expected me to play honeypot, and though I'd been in many uncomfortable situations, that one still unnerved me.
Not three hours pass before Alice, head of this team, taps my shoulder and tells me to open my eyes. I look into the mirror, noting that dark hair contrasts nicely with my skin. I haven't been this deep of a brunette for almost a year. I'd forgotten that. At least this time I don't need contacts—natural brown comes in handy, on occasion. I miss the blue contacts though, unnerved by my own stare. My nose seems thinner, and I don't know how they've made it appear so. I never know how they change things without changing them.
"Good," I answer, stretching finally, curling my toes and feeling my muscles coiling and uncoiling under my skin. It's a pleasant feeling. I think Isabella Swan will kick box. It's not so uncommon for girls now, hopefully. And if it is, I'll just punch Edward until he gets over it. Can't be too hard to bully the man.
Not that I'm supposed to be bullying this time. I sigh. I might have to be nice to him, all the time since we're living and schooling and doing everything together. He'll be like my new twin—the inferior one.
Alice leads me to the store rooms. I pull down things Isabella Swan might wear—it'll be Washington, cold. Sweaters, tshirts, jeans, a few pairs of nice pants, workout clothes… nothing too expensive. In fact, I make sure to pick out a few pairs of ratty jeans and big flannel shirts. For house cleaning, or something. Three colors of Converse, a pair of flats—this time, heels won't be necessary—and one set of ass-kicking boots. Always handy to have a pair. If only to make a girl feel tough. I'm piled with toiletries Isabella will use—she apparently likes smelling like blackberries and raspberries.
Someone drapes a coat over the pile, packs it all in boxes, and hands it off to the transport team. It'll be waiting for me.
Weary now, after hours on site, I leave the compound, riding the elevator up to the government building settled above. I walk down to one of the MUNI stops, shivering in the breeze, and ride the shuttle to my apartment. The last night in this apartment, which belongs to Melissa Efferson, age twenty-six, secretary to some important business suspected—and confirmed—of being involved in devious schemes. I am not her, not now, but I will sleep in her bed, drink her coffee, wear her pajamas for the last time.
My neighbors don't notice me, don't question the brunette who is so obviously not the vibrant redhead who lives next to them. I'm thankful. And tired. I glance around as I turn on the coffee maker, taking in the rooms around me. They're untouched by me, myself, filled instead with essentials and one piece of art that I can't name or appreciate. It looks like some sort of swan, an ugly one, and I usually avoid looking at it.
There will be no ugly swan tomorrow. I almost want to take it with me. See, I'm Isabella Swan. This is me, this portrait.
I don't like that comparison.
I watch tv for the last time, use the microwave on a frozen meal for the last time, shower for the last time in this bathroom, and then drop onto the soft mattress for the last time, setting my alarm for one. I want a last look around tomorrow, to see if I really need to grab anything besides the backpack I keep ready at all times, in case I have to run.
There's nothing though, when I get up to check. Instead, I walk around, trailing my fingers across surfaces. I don't even collect dust—it's spotless, like nobody truly lives here but for the box from my meal last night. Shrugging, I steal one of the travel mugs, fill it with dark morning rejuvenation, and sling the backpack over my shoulder.
The door clicks shut behind me, I push the key under the door, and then I'm gone.
Melissa Efferson has disappeared.
I'm glad I'm allowed into the house first, four hours before Edward's plane is supposed to land. I have orders to unpack my things, make the house look lived in. Isabella has been living here for a week already, according to my briefing, and I have to make it seem true.
Organizing calms me, keeps me happy. Cleaning does as well. And then I start pulling things out of the miscellaneous box.
An award for track that I never really earned—though Isabella apparently did. I think I can run fast enough to make it seem true. Maybe I'll go out for the track team, then. Maybe this means Edward will.
Books and books and books—they have notes in them, some of them, little hints for me. I vow to buy clean ones and note them up myself. There are pictures, where I've been added to groups of friends I don't know. I'll make up names and stories later.
By the time I hear the moving van pull up outside, my room looks like a college girl's. It's a little unnerving, reverting to nineteen when I had been twenty-six only yesterday. Now I can't even legally drink. Not that I'm technically supposed to drink on the job, but…
I open the door when I hear the knock, forcing a shy smile for the guy standing there, a box in his arms and sad anger in his eyes. They didn't give him contacts. I'm almost glad, because it really would be a shame to cover that shade of green. Still, it's more dangerous.
And so my job begins.
"Hi, I'm Bella," I say, shrugging uneasily. "You must be Edward?"
"Yeah," he mutters. "Where do I put my things?"
"Upstairs, first door on the left. Want help?"
He hesitates, looks at me, eyes roving over my face and body, taking in the t-shirt I'd picked out in a fit of lit-nerdom yesterday. Draco Malfoy glares malevolently from my shirt, and I'm sure Edward's a Harry Potter kid too, because he almost smiles. "Sure."
I traipse outside to grab a box from the moving van that is waiting. The man working to hand down the boxes is vaguely familiar, but he doesn't recognize me. I'm glad. I'd have to get re-made-over if he did.
I walk into Edward's room, which I'd previously avoided, and look around with interest. Green walls, white sideboards. Perhaps I should have taken this room and left the white one for him. But no, there's a reason my boxes were set in that particular room.
"Where do you want this?" I ask, shuffling and rolling my shoulders. It feels like this box weighs a ton—I presume it's books or movies or something.
"Just, set it in the corner, I guess?" He's standing at the window, looking out at the tree and the common area all of these university houses share. The box he had walked in with has been set on the stripped bed in the corner. I wonder if he thought to bring sheets.
"You coming to get the rest or am I doing all the work?" I tease lightly, chancing it. He looks sad, and I don't like it. Distraction usually works when I'm not feeling my best, and I hope it will with him too. If he's going to mope around, my emotions will be havoc.
He moves his gaze to me, and I feel pinned, like a butterfly stuck to a board, something sharp piercing my wings and trapping me for study. I squirm and leave the room without waiting for an answer, unnerved.
I know his father went missing last week on an assignment. Supposedly, he thinks I'm in the same situation, that my life has been uprooted and I've been moved here with him because we're so similar and this is supposed to be safe. But maybe that's not the truth. Maybe he's an agent too. Maybe it's a test for both of us.
Or maybe I'm just paranoid, I think when I hear the noise from above that can only be him tripping on a box. Being suspicious of everything and everyone is just a side-effect of living a dangerous life, I suppose.
Still, he passes me on my way back in, and meets me up in his room with two boxes in one go. I'm tempted to call him a show-off, or to show him up myself, but that would be bad form.
"Where are you from?" he asks me abruptly, turning to face me as I'm walking through the doorframe.
I pause, my fingers wrapped around the wood, and look at him. "Er… Colorado," I lie, looking askance at him with my eyebrows up. "You?"
"California," he responds. I already knew that, though—I'd seen him back in San Francisco, and they wouldn't fly him out to that branch if he lived closer to another one. I've already tried going through the list of agents I know were based in SF, but the list is short—we don't know much about each other, for safety reasons.
"Where are your parents?" he asks next, and something inside of me twists.
He doesn't ask any more questions. I'm grateful, because what I've just told him is probably the truth.
The rest of the unloading is quiet between us. I finally deter from the path we're repeatedly trudging—truck to house to his room to truck—and into the living room, plugging an iPod in. I'd filled it with music I think Isabella would like. I like some of it, but some of it I can't stand. I pretend to bop along anyway, and Edward doesn't comment. I wonder what he listens to.
Finally, we have the last of the boxes. Edward signs off on something as I disappear into my room, shutting the door and booting up the laptop that will connect me to my reporting base.
I summarize the afternoon, our interactions, noting things of interest. It's like a journal of sorts, but some of the things we put in these journals are incriminating, evidence, observations and plans and requests. Every aspect of my life and job, and they are one in the same.
I emerge an hour later, stretching, and find Edward downstairs in the kitchen, going through drawers. "Spoons are in that drawer." I point, glancing at the yogurt on the counter. That's my yogurt, but we'll have to share. We'll have to be friends. Sharing will be second nature.
"Thanks," he mutters, following my advice. "How long have you been here?" he asks a moment later, as if unsure he should really be inquiring.
I shrug. "A week or so. Classes start tomorrow."
"Impeccable timing," he snorts under his breath, and I feel a smile flicker across my face before I catch it. Things usually are impeccably timed when the agency is involved, I think internally.
"They said we'll have all the same classes?" he attempts again, a few minutes later. I look up from the newspaper I've been pretending to read. He puts a bitter emphasis on 'they,' and I wonder how he'd feel if he knew I was one of them.
"I guess." I shrug, as if I'm just as lost as he is. "You're a lit major too, though? Do you think that's why they paired us up? I mean, I'm glad you're here—it's been weird, being alone here."
He glances up at me again, as if he hadn't realized the situation would be the same for his new roommate—supposedly. "Yeah, I'm a lit major, and that makes sense. So you're a junior?"
I nod and swing my feet under the stool I'm sitting on.
"Where'd you go before they uprooted you?"
I pause for a moment. "University of Colorado, Boulder. You?"
"San Francisco State," he admits. "I'm not happy to be here."
"You think I am?" I ask, annoyance flaring up. I'm having a hard time believing he's really as self-centered as he's been acting so far. Maybe he's used to being spoiled. Maybe he's in a state of emotional turmoil and confusion. Still.
Edward looks up at me, anger glittering in the depths of his eyes, and I realize that's what's wrong. He wants to fight, because he couldn't fight the decision someone made for him to come here. I remember him being led into the compound yesterday morning, flanked by two men I know were agents sent out to collect him. Fighting is a choice for him, one he was denied.
And I get it, I do, but… if he wants to fight with me, he'd best prepare to end up in the hospital.
"Well, hey, I don't know, do I?" He flings his hands up—melodramatic much?—and drops the spoon in the sink with a nasty clink as it hits and skitters around.
"I'll inform you, then. I'm just as scared of this as you are, and just as fucking pissed off. So don't you dare try to blame this on me. Right now, we don't know each other or like each other, but we're all we have, so we best get there. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to the gym so I don't punch you by mistake," I grind out, slipping calmly off my stool and leaving the room. I can still hear him cussing under his breath, and I hope he feels guilty.
I wake up early the next morning, as I'm used to—I don't sleep well. Never have, probably never will. I'm too… tense. I never feel as if I can relax, and for that I damn this job.
I am surprised to find Edward is already up, though. He's obviously been for a run, and I think he must be the reason I have a track medal. If we don't kill each other, maybe he'd let me run with him in the mornings. It'd be safer that way for him. Just in case we are found.
"Morning," I fake-yawn, padding into the kitchen to make coffee. I make enough for him as well, just in case, as a kind of peace offering.
I stay in the kitchen to drink my coffee when it's done, leaning against the counter and staring at the clock on the microwave and the duck-patterned towel hanging off the handle of the oven. I wonder who chose the ducks for us. Do we seem like duck people? I've always wanted to meet the decorators, the set-ups. I want to tell them I hate the color orange, because two of three times they give me an orange toothbrush and fruit flavored toothpaste. Usually, I throw them away and go buy my own as soon as I can.
Edward shuffles in as I washing out my mug, and I smile tightly at him before slipping by to go take a shower. It hadn't escaped my notice that he didn't respond to my greeting earlier. Bastard.
He's still quiet when we walk to class, and I know we're in for a boring day. Every class together, where the professors will more than likely be going over syllabi and dismissing us earlier. Finding meals together. Walking together. All silently, if this is any indication.
"Not a morning person?" I finally ask as I drop in the middle of a hallway next to the classroom. There're still remnants of the class before ours flitting around inside, and our classmates are waiting with us out here. I'm the only one sitting, but I don't move.
His eyes surprise me when they meet mine for the first time this morning. "I… I didn't think you'd want me to talk to you," he answers, shrugging awkwardly. He shoves his hands into the pockets of his jeans and looks away as something warm sweeps under my skin, discomforting and foreign.
"Well, who else am I going to talk to?" I finally ask, nudging his calf with my elbow.
He looks back down and offers me a hand. Surprised, I take it and he pulls me up. His hand is dry but smooth, warm, with long fingers that could enclose my fist in them easily. He lets me go as soon as I'm up, smiling tentatively. "I'm sorry about yesterday. I'll try not to be such a jackass, yeah?"
"Do that," I advise, grinning as we make our way into the classroom.
Maybe today won't be so bad.
I'm right. The day isn't bad. Nor is the week that follows. Or the three after that.
Slowly, Edward and I reach understandings.
I realize he secretly likes the duck theme in our kitchen, even as he complains about it daily. It makes me grin every time he does it. He knows now to knock before he enters my room. He made the mistake of walking in once, and I made sure I retaliated at a most unfortunate time for him. I've still got the vision of his hand wrapped around himself that pops up at random times, flushing under my skin. I hadn't meant for it to affect me quite as much as I was hoping to embarrass him and teach him a lesson.
We're learning about each other, and we've begun running in the mornings, two to three miles depending, even on weekends. I offer to teach him kickboxing at the gym, though he turns me down. He does yoga instead, which I find more amusing than I should. Also slightly worrying—yoga is all well and good, but if anybody gets a hold of him in a dangerous situation, he won't be able to defend himself. Sure, he can stretch and run away, but… it just means he can't go out alone.
Over time, though, he stops wanting to go alone, starts expecting my company.
"Bella, come one, I need to go to the store and I know you'll want candy. Please?"
"Hey, Bella, we've got class in four minutes, need I remind you? Bring the frozen yogurt with us if you must, but get a move on."
"Want to go out Friday night? Kara from seminar invited us."
I look up from the sofa, where I'm stretched out watching an animated movie that makes him poke fun at me. "Huh?"
"Friday night, Kara invited us over to her place. Want to go?" he repeats, rolling his eyes. He's sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table, which is piled with papers and homework and books and highlighters, his laptop, and an empty cup.
"Er…" A regular college student would say yes, I know this, but the agent in me…
"Oh, come on. We never go out," he complains, turning his eyes onto me. He's learned how to manipulate Isabella, and I sigh. Maybe he knows how to manipulate me as well, but I'm not admitting to that dangerous occurrence.
"So?" I ask, returning back to my movie. "We visit with people after class, and we were just over at Kara's yesterday to work on Shakespeare, or don't you remember being killed violently by The Douglas?"
"Not the same thing, Bella, and you know it." Out of the corner of my eye, I see him pointing an accusatory ballpoint pen at me. I snort.
"Maybe for an hour," I concede. "But we're being careful."
Even turned away, I can see his smile. I move my arms to hide my own.
This is getting dangerous already. Being out in the field carries the chance for death, but this…
It's a good thing I'm worried, especially as Edward hands me a shot glass filled to the brim with vodka. He's already slopped some on the counter, and grins at me roguishly, tapping his against mine. "To changes?"
"So typical," I snort, and look at the glass. "I'm not sure, Edward…"
"Bella, one drink, that's all. I'm here with you all night anyway. We'll be fine."
And he looks at me, eyelashes dark and casting shadows in the dim light of the bulb over the sink. My pulse races—if anyone were tracking my pulse and the adrenaline in my blood, they'd think something were wrong. But it doesn't feel wrong—it feels so right, even if it should be wrong, that I tip the shot back and pour it down my throat, feeling the burn spread throughout my chest, warming me from the inside much like his gaze does sometimes.
Against my better judgment, one shot turns into four. We promise to stop, nodding at each other with wide grins. Already, we're a little giddy, and we've only been here half an hour. It's a regular house party—booze and snacks all over the kitchen counters, beer pong set up in the living room on a table, music blaring in a cleared spot for dancing…
When Edward pulls me into the small crowd there, I don't resist, melting back into him. We're comfortable with each other. We are. This is nothing.
Or so I tell myself.
I can still feel him behind me, hard and warm and pressed close, so close, his fingers tangled with mine, trailing up my waist and down my thighs and everywhere as our hips move rhythmically along to the music.
This is something. Oh, is this ever something.
Edward starts chuckling over my shoulder, the sound reverberating through me as well. "What?" I ask, grinning back at him.
"You—you're—you come off as a little sexually frustrated, do you know that?"
My mouth drops open—though instead of a scathing retort, laughter falls out instead, and I lean back into him, shaking with it. We stop dancing, standing in place, cracking up, so close to each other and everything.
"You can't use 'come' and 'sexually frustrated' in the same sentence," I chide jokingly, twisting away from him. "Really, Edward, don't you know anything?"
And he does, I can tell, because his eyes are dark and his tongue is wet on his bottom lip and he doesn't let his fingers disentwine from mine.
We hear Kara greeting other guests, and neither of us looks. I might be trapped. I should tell the agency to look into this method for getting the truth and as incentive, because holy shit he cracks me open just by looking at me.
Still, when someone bumps into me harshly from behind, I stumble forward into him, and his mouth is over mine, hot and wet and sliding easily, perfectly, pressured and measured and pulling me in. I feel like he's sucking my soul out, and I don't care one whit because he's giving me a new one.
We break away, dragging air down our throats, staring at each other. Unexpected, completely, but… not entirely unwanted, if I'm honest. When the jostling behind me comes again, I'm tempted to turn and punch someone for interrupting this moment.
I'm under your spell, you got me begging you for mercy, why won't you release me?
Edward shifts his gaze from mine to glare over my shoulder for me, and I shove him back a little, out of the crowd, before I chance a look myself. My heart rams in my chest as I note the unfamiliar couple dancing in the crowd. The girl is staring right at me, eyes calculating and hard and…
I lean up to press a sloppy kiss against Edward's jaw, giggling and pressing him back further. His hands clasp around my waist as he walks backward obligingly to the bathroom, which I'm happy to find empty. I shove him inside, smiling lasciviously, and lock the door behind us.
He presses into me, and I shove him off, allowing the adrenaline to pick up again with my breathing. "Oh no, oh no, oh no," I whisper, squeezing my eyes shut. "Edward, we have to go, now."
"Okay, I'm ready to leave." There's laughter in his voice, and I realize I can't tell him right now. Not until we're clear. This needs to be natural.
I smile up at him, quavering, and he looks me over, eyes narrowing and arms crossing as he sees through me. "Yeah? Let's go then."
His hand clasps my wrist as I turn. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," I lie, unlocking the door and twisting my hand until I'm holding his. "Come on."
He trails me over to Kara, and we each hug her goodbye before heading out. I pretend to walk backward while talking to Edward, but I'm searching, watching, waiting. And there they are, slipping out of the house.
Hurriedly, I press Edward back off the path, into the side of an apartment, and cover his mouth with my hand. "They found us," I hiss into the skin just below his ear. "I don't know how, but we need to leave, now."
He tenses slightly, and I know he doesn't understand. "Don't speak, just… be quiet," I tell him, taking back my hand and creeping along the side of this house.
I can feel him behind me, though I can barely hear him. Right now, I honestly wish he were an agent.
There's a tree back here, and I ask him quietly for a lift, climbing up to a branch that conceals me from view. I can still see, barely, under it, and I watch for them as he joins me, leaves crackling. My heart is racing, though my breathing is calm now. My hands aren't sweating.
Why have I always thought kicking ass was so much easier than covering it?
Edward sits close to the trunk on the other side, silent, and I know he's confused and defensive and probably freaking out. I shuffle closer and reach around to grab his hand, squeezing. "Edward, I'm… those people at the party, who bumped into us? Did you sense anything… off… about them?"
"If I did, it was no reason to freak out and climb into a tree," he says, too loudly.
I squeeze again, hard, and he gasps. "Shut up!" I hiss, looking out worriedly. "This isn't a joke. You sensed something off because they're dangerous, especially to you. I don't know what happened, or how they got here, but… we can't go home tonight. They may already know where we live, may be there already, and I'm not chancing that. We're going to climb down and jump over that fence, and then we're going to continue jumping fences until we get to a street. We're going to be stealthy, and we're going to avoid streetlight, and we're going to find a bus station or a cab and find a hotel. We'll figure out what do from there, okay? I'll explain it all, in more detail, when we have time, I promise."
It's quiet for a moment, and then I feel him pull his hand from mine. My heart plummets faster than it did when I first saw the others. "Edward?"
The fear in my voice is audible, and it might be that which makes him reach back to brush a finger down the side off my wrist. "Okay. When?"
We run for it twenty minutes later, hopping fences as quietly as we can. I don't let Edward help me any more—it would slow us down. Besides, I have the feeling I'll be telling him everything tonight. He won't let me give him part of it and stop there. Might as well show him now.
We manage to catch a bus, sitting as close to the doors as we can. Edward still has leaves in his hair, and his hands are scratched from the fences. My heart clenches and I avoid looking at him, knowing he's hurt on the inside too. He can tell I'm not who I've been playing. He's smart, he can read between the lines. It's all he's ever been taught to do, to look at things with a deeper meaning, to look at things and find more in them, hidden, planted, waiting to be analyzed. I suddenly, irrationally, hate that our English professors encourage us to do this.
Everything easy between us has fallen away, I know. He doesn't reach out to touch me, even innocently. He doesn't speak. We're silent, like we were the first day. He stares out the window, and I look at the other passengers, survey the ones boarding, until finally we're near hotels. We get off, still without words between us, and I lead the way inside the second one we come across, getting a single room for the night with the emergency credit card I carry with me at all times. I'm just frustrated that I didn't bring my backpack tonight. It was careless.
It was careless to go out in the first place, but maybe it was better that we had. I shudder as I imagine sitting at home, our usual Friday night routine of movie and homework and videogames well on its way, interrupted by…
The attendant gives us our room key, suspicious about our lack of luggage, but I stare him down until he goes back to minding his own business, putting his headphones back on. We take the stairs.
As soon as I let us into the room, Edward turns on me. "Is here good?" he says loudly, and betrayal laces every syllable. I wince, and rub my forehead, leaning back against the door.
"I'm sorry," I whisper, terrified to realize there are tears in my eyes. I haven't cried because of an assignment since I was seventeen for real, and that was five years ago. I'm not this weak person, and I hate her. Isabella.
"Don't be sorry, be honest," he slings at me, and I can't deny that it hurts, that it's like poison, spreading through me.
"Fine!" I shout, "Fine!" I throw my hands up, a gesture I know I've picked up from him, and my eyes snap open to pin him in place as I advance. "I'm an agent, the same kind your father was. I've been on assignment trying to keep you safe and out of the way, and now we've been found. Those people at the party, whoever the hell they are, are here for you. And me. Because of your dad.
"I know, because I went through this bullshit myself. The same thing that has happened to you happened to me, okay? Except I demanded training, I demanded to be let in, to become one of them. I wanted revenge on whoever took my parents from me—both of them at once—and I got it. I've been working ever since. And now, now, we're in danger, and you especially, because they can use you against your dad. I'm sure that's why they're here—so take comfort in the fact that your dad is alive, at least. And just listen to me, because I'm going to save your life."
He stares at me, ghosts in his eyes, and I can see the truth hitting him, each word like a dagger, until he stumbles back to the edge of the bed, falling onto the edge of it and hiding his face in his hands. I stand by the door still, breathing hard, and lower my arms to my sides.
"And I'm sorry for lying, but it was for your own good," I finally say, hollow, and I know this is what will get the reaction.
I'm let down, surprised, when he doesn't respond. I'm nearly afraid because he doesn't.
"Don't call me that. It's a lie." His voice is gravelly, broken and harsh. "My name is Cullen Lyons. My dad is on a business trip in France. He's not a spy, he's not captured, and no one is trying to kill me. I'm not Edward Masen."
"You are. If you want to live, you are."
"What if I don't? What if I'm sick of being lied to by everyone I care about?"
Finally, he lifts his head to look at me. I wish he hadn't, because I can't breathe or move or do anything but feel every bit of the pain I see in that gaze.
Slowly, I shake my head, squeezing my eyes shut again and sliding back against the door until I'm sitting at the bottom, my head resting on my pulled up knees. Whatever warmth I may have felt earlier in the night has gone, and inside I feel like it does outdoors—barren and cold and empty.
I don't realize I'm saying anything until Edward shouts, startling me. "Stop saying you're sorry!"
"Just… fuck it, I'm going to take a shower. You do whatever the hell you want to." He slams the door behind him. I want to throw something at it.
"Fine, shut me out!" I yell, lurching up and over to the door. "Shut me out and see what happens, Edward! I'm all you've got right now and you're all I've got."
The door flies open again, unexpectedly, and I almost fall through. "I've heard that bullshit before," he snarls. His eyes are fiery.
"That part was true, asshole!"
"Oh? Well excuse me, I'm not sure what's true and what's false anymore." The sarcasm is biting, but I'm impervious right now. Maybe I know I deserve it. Maybe I've other concerns.
"Fine. True: my parents are dead. I would become a lit major if I weren't doing this. I love that Draco Malfoy shirt more than I have any other possession that doesn't really belong to me. False: my name is Isabella Swan. I'm from Colorado."
"Oh, that's it, is it? The being my friend thing wasn't false? The being a victim thing wasn't false? And who the hell are you then, huh?"
We're close, too close, and I don't care. "Fine!" It tumbles out without permission. "My name was Victoria Carson. I had a little brother, who I haven't seen for five years. I have no idea where he is or if he's alive or what his name is now. I'm twenty-two, and I don't remember my birthday anymore. I just know five years have passed since I was seventeen. I was from Connecticut, but moved out to San Francisco for training. I've never been one identity for longer than two months since then. I don't have a favorite color or a favorite food because I'm not allowed to know myself—I'm allowed to know the name I pretend to be."
He tries to talk, but I'm speaking over him, truth flooding out. I wonder briefly why the dam has broken now, when it's never broken before under torture or training. I didn't even know I still had these memories.
"And whatever I feel for you, because damn if I don't feel something, is more than I've allowed myself to feel since I killed the person responsible for the deaths of my parents and Victoria—"
I shut up, because he's kissing me again, rough and aggressive and my hands are in his hair, holding him tight to me, trying to hide myself in him, as if he can absorb me. Maybe he already has absorbed me, because, hell, I can't think of anything right now, and I don't want to.
Before I know it, I'm pressed up against the wall, his hands holding mine up by my head, his knee between my thighs, both of us moving into each other, trying to lose ourselves and everything that should matter but doesn't anymore.
Heat and passion and anger and fear and apology, not a word said. Physically, his hands sliding down my arms to cup my face, gentling, mine falling to slip into his back pockets, holding him there. I don't want to leave him, don't want him to leave me. Somehow, over the past month, he's become essential, without my noticing. I want to cry.
And then I am, and he's pulling me tightly, not saying a word, just holding me as I shake. I can't lost him, and I won't, even if I'm losing myself in him.
I'm not sure which of us said it, but shirts are flying off, buttons are being undone, jeans are being stumbled out of, and the hotel comforter is against my back, cool against my flushed skin. His mouth is on my ribs, his hands fumbling at the clasp behind my back, and sounds are falling from my mouth, sounds I can't recognize.
I know I shouldn't be doing this. It's not right, job-wise, but fuck if we both don't need it. Connection. Physical, but… he's kissing me as he slides in, and it's emotional too. It has been, since the first time he met my eyes. I've pressed emotions back and down every other time, but something—my knowledge of his situation, his eyes—fucking something broke me down.
And here I am, breath shared, the room filled with the sound of skin slapping skin, whispered words that make no sense, heat and breathing that is too fast and we're lost, falling over the edge, crying out and squeezing and tensing until we relax. He curls around me then, a hand on my stomach, his other arm beneath my head, and I link my fingers with his, eyes falling closed, hair messy and sticking and parts of me sore in the best way possible.
"I'm sorry," I finally whisper. "And that was truth."
"I know that." The words are spoken against the back of my neck, the bone at the top of my spine, rolling down my spinal cord and through my nervous system.
"Good," I sigh. "We have to call tomorrow. They'll pick us up."
He squeezes me tighter. "What do you think will happen?"
"I don't know," I admit, and I roll over to press myself into him. "I don't know."
"Masen, work your ass!" I huff, smacking it as I run past him easily, grinning. "Work up that endurance. We don't just do sprints here! If you're going to join this agency, you'd better work like it!"
"That's InstructorSwan to you, if you please."
"Instructor Swan," he grumbles under his breath. "Bitch."
I stop in the middle of the path, and he runs into me, nearly plowing us over. "Smooth," I gasp as he sets me back upright, glaring at me in exasperation. "When someone does that during an assignment, that'll be bad news."
I reach out and tug on his hair. "Yes, asshole, no thanks to you. Watch where you're going next time. Focus. Don't lose that."
"Lose what?" His mouth curves into a grin, and I fight my own.
"Stop it. Save that for later."
"Oh, is the sex part of training too?"
"It better not be," I warn, glaring. "You're not going to be honeypot material."
"Well damn. I happen to like honey."
"Masen," I warn.
He shuts me up with a quick kiss and steps back, letting me go. "How much longer, Instructor Swan?"
"We'll see," I say, and I'm smiling as I set off again, knowing he's right behind me.
We may not be lost on this path, but we are lost to each other.
Dedicated to all those spy dreams I kept having which provided the inspiration for this. Seriously, spy dreams seem to be a thing for me.
Lyrics from Mercy, by Duffy.
Uh... so I wrote this ages ago for a relief fundraiser, which actually never got back to me about it. Eh. I sat down one day after switching fandoms and was surprised when this flowed out. I'd though myself done with Twilight. I do now, but, well, who knows when something might knock me out and take over? (Unlikely right now since my subconcience is demanding I write XMFC fic and start working on my H/D Hols piece.)
But thank you to Erica, who read this over with me all those months ago, even if I barely ever hear from her anymore. *ahem* (Dude, find some time to get on skype, I haven't heard from you in two weeks and that's far too sad. Bets and I miss you.)