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Title: Panic
Picture Prompt Number: 2
Pairing: Bella/Victoria, Laurent, James/Edward
Rating: M
Genre: AH Drama/Suspense
Word Count (minus A/N and Header): 9,189

Summary (250 characters or less, including spaces and punctuation):

When Isabella Swan regains consciousness with no idea where she is…unable to see or scream…barely able to move and breathe, her first instinct is to survive…in any way possible. No matter where she is, her goal is to get out alive. With that in mind, the last thing she can allow herself to do is…panic.

Warnings and Disclaimer:

Coarse language. Feelings of anxiety and distress in a hostage situation.

PANIC

I didn't so much "regain" consciousness, as have it slam back into me in a rush. One second I was 'gone' and the next I was 'back'…but back where? I was completely disoriented. 'Look around.' My mind told me. 'Look around and see where you are.' I moved my head, left then right.

Oh my God, I couldn't see! I was blind! Was I blind? Were my eyes open? I had thought so at first; I was awake, so they should be open. But no…they weren't. I could tell they weren't.

'Open your eyes!' I told myself silently. 'Open them, damn it!' I tried. It didn't work. There was something covering my eyes. Why would something be covering my eyes? What the fuck was going on? What was happening?

I needed to take it off…to take off whatever was blinding me, but where were my hands? They wouldn't come to help me. They were…above my head and angled out a bit to each side. They were…tied? I was bound and tied to something?

I could feel the panic lurking, waiting to pounce…like a pack of wolves pacing just out of reach of a fire, waiting for the flames to turn to embers before surging forward and overwhelming the doomed traveler. I could feel it threatening to surge toward me…to overwhelm me.

My breathing increased and became more ragged and I started to cry out, tried to cry out…and then realized it wasn't happening. My scream was muffled and low. It became a moan when I realized that my mouth wasn't available to me anymore either. Like my eyes, it was covered…only not with cloth. It felt sealed. It was sealed, with tape I was sure.

'Don't panic, don't panic, don't panic…' I told myself in a mantra…over and over in quick succession.

'You can breathe. Your eyes and mouth may be covered but your nose seems clear and you can breathe. Now breathe, damn it…but slower…slower…' Little by little I managed. I pushed the panic back a bit more with each slow, measured inhalation. 'Now, take inventory. Think. Figure out what the fuck happened.'

Priorites. What to do first? I needed to take inventory of my body. Was I okay? Was I hurt somewhere? Could I tell?

'Start with your head and work down from there,' said my internal voice. So I did.

My head felt okay. I had a headache, but it wasn't a bad one so I didn't think I'd been hit or anything. That would hurt worse than this, right? This was a dull ache, a throbbing ache…but not horrible. I was pretty sure my head was okay.

My eyes were covered with some sort of cloth. I could feel the softness of cloth. Wait! If it was a blindfold like you wore for a child's party game, it would come off if I could just manage to move my head around enough to dislodge it, right? Of course!

I moved my head gently from side to side. I mean, I didn't think my headache indicated anything serious, but I didn't want to make something worse if I was wrong. Nothing happened to the cloth. It didn't budge. Okay, I needed to be a little more vigorous. I pushed my head back into the surface behind it (a pillow?), hoping to get more friction on the cloth so it would shift, and tossed my head back and forth with more speed and pressure this time. Still nothing. My eyes remained as securely covered as before. Why would that be? Stop. Think.

If there was a cloth blindfold tied around my head, there would be a knot in the back, right? Or, at least something that secured it? I should feel that. It would be uncomfortable. I didn't feel anything but the softness of the pillow. There was no knot, no discernible feeling of a fastener. But then how was cloth covering my eyes and what was keeping it in place?

As soon as I asked myself that question, I figured it out. Yes, there was cloth over my eyes…a few layers of it I thought because it felt kind of cushioned, padded…but now that I was paying attention, I could feel something more than the cloth. I could feel something attached to my skin near my temples. The cloth was held in place with tape. It wasn't going to come off just because I moved my head back and forth. Okay, I wasn't going to be seeing for awhile. At least it didn't hurt. At least the tape wasn't directly on my eyes.

'Don't panic, don't panic, don't panic…'

My nose was next, clear and unobstructed. Breathing through it was okay…not as comfortable as also having my mouth available, but okay if I breathed slowly, calmly. I was working on that.

My mouth. I knew about that already. Definitely taped closed and definitely not able to scream or yell or talk. I tried again anyway. Nope…all I could manage was a muffled mmmfffff'…low and barely audible to my own ears, let alone someone else's. At least I could still swallow behind the tape…if I needed to. My mouth was actually so dry that I didn't think swallowing was really going to be an issue for awhile.

My body felt…okay. Having my arms up over my head wasn't the most comfortable position to be in, but my wrists seemed to be bound with something cushioned, not hard or painful. Another good thing. Also, they weren't numb, neither my hands nor my arms. Hmmm…maybe I hadn't been in this position that long. I felt chilled though. Bare arms then. Not covered.

My focus moved to my body…also cool. Also bare? Oh God, oh God, oh…

'Don't panic, don't panic, don't panic…' I forced into my mind.

Wait. Not completely bare. I could feel straps still on my shoulders, less chill on my breasts than the rest of my chest. My bra was still on me then. I tried to feel the rest of my body with my mind.

Okay. Legs. Bare legs. They were cool too. Slightly spread but not uncomfortably so…but bound at the ankles, with something cushioned again, and attached to something, obviously. Some movement possible…a few inches maybe. Not a lot. No pain though. Good. Next…feet. I wiggled my toes. Bare feet. No big deal. I can do bare feet. I do bare feet all the time.

Now…my lower body. I took a breath and concentrated. 'Please, oh please…'

I shifted my hips on the surface behind me (a mattress?), first left then right, and felt the slip of satin across my backside. Okay, lacy satin panties still in place. I didn't realize I was holding the breath I'd taken until it came out in a rush through my nose. Did anything hurt…down there? Did anything feel wrong or different? No. Thank you, God…no. As far as I could tell, I was okay there.

I felt tears squeeze out from my eyes. I guess they got absorbed by the cloth that was covering them. There was nowhere else for them to go. I was afraid to start crying though. Crying meant needing more air. Crying meant your nose got stuffy. Crying meant breathing through your mouth, if you had a mouth you could breathe through. I didn't. I couldn't…so I couldn't cry. I couldn't. Don't.

'Don't panic, don't panic, don't…'

My throat ached with the effort to control my tears…but that was better than the alternative of full on crying. Eventually, I regained control and the ache dissipated, a little at a time. Okay…what next? Next was figuring out what had happened and why I was here…wherever here was. Start at the beginning. Be calm. Think.

My name is Isabella Marie Swan. I'm 23 years old and I'm from a little town in Washington, in the United States.

I recently graduated college and decided I wanted to see a little something of the world, to experience something new and different before finding a permanent job. As a result, I was about to begin a job as an au pair for the young children of a wealthy British family. The Cullens hired me after numerous emails and phone calls and then finally meeting and interviewing me in the US while they were vacationing. I'm going to live in their home in London.

The family consists of Dr. Carlisle Cullen, his wife, Esme and their two children; Emmett is six and Alice is four. There is also Dr. Cullen's younger brother who will be living there for the first month or so after I arrive. I don't know his name. I just know that he has started a new job and is looking for his own place in London.

I had only just arrived at Heathrow and was about to hail a cab to take me to the Cullen's home when I saw the man holding a sign with my name on it: Ms. Isabella Swan. He was searching the smallish crowd of passengers making their way from the baggage carousel. I was part of the smallish crowd.

'How thoughtful,' I told myself. 'They sent a driver.' I had told Dr. Cullen he didn't need to meet me. It was going to be late when I landed. I had told him and Mrs. Cullen not to worry; I would find a cab and make it to their home just fine. I was officially a 'grown up' now, after all. Obviously, if they were going to entrust me with the care of their children, they trusted that I was also capable of taking care of myself.

But, now that I saw a driver waiting, I was extremely grateful that Dr. Cullen hadn't listened to me. He may not have come to meet me himself, but how nice that I was being met. How nice not to have to wait in line for a cab, this late at night especially.

I walked up to the driver holding the sign and identified myself as Ms. Swan. He smiled slightly, took the handle of the baggage cart from me, said "Nice ta meetcha, Ms. Swan' and told me to follow him. I trailed behind and out through the terminal doors to the sidewalk.

We walked a good distance from the exit, almost to the very end of the walkway. I supposed the parking spaces nearest the doors were for quick pickups and drop-offs…not for actually awaiting a passenger's arrival. My driver stopped at the side of a nondescript black car, the only one parked this far down the walk.

Leaving the baggage cart near the trunk of the car, the driver opened the back door for me and I gratefully slid in. It had been a long flight and I was exhausted. I leaned my head on the back of the seat and let my heavy eyelids close. 'Just while he loads the bags,' I thought. 'Then I'll perk up and carry on a conversation. I don't want to be rude.'

I expected to hear the trunk of the car open and feel the slight bounce caused by the weight of my bags as they were loaded into it, but instead I felt someone hurriedly slide in next to me through the still open door. I only had time enough to lift my head and turn toward the movement before something…a cloth…a cloth with a sickly-sweet smell, covered my mouth and nose. I started to fight, to push the hands holding the cloth away and to try to kick my attacker, but the door on the other side of the car opened and I felt someone else get into the back and immediately grab my hands and throw one heavy leg over mine so my kicking was ineffectual.

I took a deep breath so I could scream and realized my mistake a second too late. The only thing that accomplished was increasing the amount entering my lungs of whatever the smelly stuff was on the cloth…the stuff that was making my brain grow fuzzy…that was making my arms and legs feel like lead weights…that was making me unable to do more than flutter my eyes open enough to look at the person holding the cloth on my face.

My brief glimpse was of a face completely covered by a knitted mask except for a slash for the mouth, a hole for the nose and a narrow rectangular opening for the eyes. That last is what scared me enough to make me squeeze mine closed again, as quickly as I could. I only saw one of the eyes behind the mask and it terrified me. It was RED and was fiercely glaring down at me while my struggles grew weaker and weaker.

And that brought me back to here…to now…because that's the last thing I remembered before "waking up". What to do now? What could I do now? Think.

I couldn't see or speak…or move from where I was. But, I could breathe and I could…hear. I could hear! My ears weren't covered and I could hear and I hadn't been paying any attention and what if I'd missed something important that could help me? No…I wasn't going to worry about that. It wouldn't do me any good to worry about what I might have missed. It would just depress me, thinking that way. Start listening…start listening now.

I tried to quiet my breathing so that I couldn't hear myself at all. I needed to block me out and to listen to everything else. Did I hear anything? I lay quietly…so quietly.

So…quiet. I couldn't hear anything. There were no traffic sounds. Weren't there always traffic sounds? I was in London, for heaven's sake…there would always be traffic and traffic sounds… all the time…in…London, wouldn't there? That's when the next thought hit me like a punch in the stomach.

What made me think I was still in London? Think about it. I had no idea how long I had been unconscious. I could have been driven somewhere around the corner or out of the city and into the countryside or put on a fucking boat and taken out of the fucking country for fuck's sake and I had NO fucking idea where I was and…I could feel the despair reach out with bony, cold fingers to grab me and pull me under. I barely managed to swallow the sobs that threatened to suffocate me. I choked them down. I wouldn't give in to them.

'Don't panic, don't panic, don't panic, don't panic, don't…' It took longer this time to bring myself back from the edge.

'Listen…and keep listening. Just because you didn't hear anything the first minute, doesn't mean there won't be something to hear sometime. Just…be…still…and…quiet.'

So…quiet. But this time I kept listening. I wasn't going to move a muscle and I wasn't going to make a sound and I would breathe slowly and quietly and evenly and…

I was still breathing slowly and quietly and evenly when I woke up. I had fallen asleep? How? How had I fallen asleep? What was the matter with me? Was I stupid? I needed to stay awake and listen and…

'Stop it! Stop berating yourself for something you couldn't help. It's okay. Just start again. Listen.'

I was getting tired of having to give myself pep talks, but what was my alternative? I could not let despair get its hooks into me. I had always been an optimistic person. I had always thought the best of things…whether people or situations. If, as I thought, that really was a natural part of my personality, then I couldn't stop now. I couldn't just throw that away. If ever I needed to look for the positive, it was now.

It was while I was giving myself this last internal speech that I noticed, at the edge of my awareness, a new sound…one that I'd almost missed because I was "talking" to myself. Listen…what was that? Was it…voices? Shhhhhhh…..be quiet….and listen.

It was. I was sure of it. There were faint voices…so faint that I couldn't tell what they were saying, but I was sure it was voices…plural…not the same voice. Even as faint as they were, there was a difference in the pitch. One voice was much deeper than the other. Okay…what would that mean?

Could one be a man and one a woman? That made the most sense if I was right about the voices, didn't it? But a woman? Would a woman do this to another woman? I didn't want to believe that…but I wasn't stupid…or even completely naïve. Of course she would. Women did awful things every day. Men didn't have a monopoly on cruelty. So…if one was a woman, and the woman was the one who came to take care of me…

Nipping at the heels of that thought was the voice in my head that said 'What makes you think someone is going to come and 'take care' of you?' I slammed the door right in the face of that thought. I literally visualized it…a door, slamming. Don't let that thought inside. Don't.

'Don't panic, don't panic, don't…'

Control. I needed control. Just wait. Don't assume. You can't know anything until it happens, so hope for the best and listen….

I lay there listening but couldn't distinguish any changes. The voices alternated…now deep, now not so deep…but I still couldn't make out any words and they didn't seem to be getting any closer, or any farther away for that matter…and they were so faint. So was no one moving around then? They weren't coming to wherever I was. What were they doing? And then…I knew.

They weren't real. They were on a television…they were television voices. I knew…because the volume increased and there was…music…a jingle…a commercial? Commercials were always louder than programs. Why was that, anyway? I'd heard once it was because people got up and left the room during commercials…to go to the kitchen and get a snack or to have a bathroom break…and the commercial didn't want you to be able to escape its sales 'pitch' so it set its volume on HIGH and followed you to wherever you went and….what the fuck was I doing?

Focus! I needed to focus! It was getting harder and harder to do. I had a feeling that even though I was outwardly managing, however slightly, to keep the panic of my situation from overwhelming me, inside it was nibbling away at my resolve…little bite by little bite with its sharp, pointy teeth. I couldn't let it. I pushed it back. Don't think of that. Don't.

'Don't panic. Don't panic. Don't…'

My mantra was getting on my nerves, but saying 'DON'T panic' was better than the alternative, wasn't it? Yes. It was.

The alternative could kill me…if not physically…it could at least kill me mentally or emotionally. And that might be worse. That could be infinitely worse. So…I would say it until I couldn't say it anymore. If it kept me sane and thinking coherently…I would say it forever…until I really was killed. Was that a possibility? Yes, I suppose it was…but I wasn't going to go there. I just wasn't.

I took a long, deep breath in and out through my nose, as slowly as I possibly could…and then I did it again.

So…now what? I was back to not knowing who I was dealing with. Well…that wasn't entirely true. I at least knew who I had been dealing with before I was brought here. I was dealing with an average looking man with an okay smile who pretended to be my driver and who was in on this with at least one other person because there had been two people in that backseat with me and one of them had…had…a red eye! Oh my God, oh fuck! What WAS that? How was that possible? Think.

Something wrong with his eye or eyes? Some condition that caused it to be that color? I couldn't imagine what that would be, but there were lots of things I didn't know in the world so I'm sure it was a possibility. What else? What else was a possibility? What could change the color of…I stopped mid sentence in my mind.

Contacts. Of course. Contact lenses could easily change the color of your eyes and they came in all kinds of colors now for lots of different reasons and it was going to be Halloween next month and so there were probably costume shops with all manner of contact lenses now. I'd even seen ones that were made to look like the eyes of a cat, with slit-like vertical pupils. Those were really creepy.

So, why would my attacker…my kidnapper, I amended…be wearing red contact lenses? Simple, so I couldn't identify the color of his eyes. And people only took precautions like that when there was a chance that you might be able to identify them. And that meant that they were planning to let you go, because, if they were planning to…not let you go (I wasn't going to think that other word again), they didn't care whether you could identify them or not.

For the first time since I woke, I actually felt a small sense of relief. I knew I still had a chance to come out of this okay. Tears leaked out of my eyes again. I felt the heat and salt of them, even though they couldn't touch my cheeks. 'So, Bella…' I thought to myself, 'now what?'

Now I had to hold onto that thought…that hope that I was going to come out of this okay…that someone was going to come and take care of me. I just had to wait and think and plan what to do when that happened to maximize my chances to stay safe…to get out of this somehow.

Okay…I needed to keep my mind busy so it didn't slip back to the negative. Think. Think.

What came to me first was one simple word: Why?

Why had someone decided to do this…to kidnap me? Ransom? Didn't most people do this for money? I didn't have any money. My parents didn't have any money. This was not a good thing. Had they mistaken me for someone else…for someone who did have money….or whose family had money? The answer to that came quickly and clearly.

No. There was no mistake. The "driver" had had my name on a card. He knew who I was. He had to know I didn't have money…that I was just here for a job, to be an au pair, for Dr. and Mrs. Cullen. And then that thought expanded…..for wealthy Dr. and Mrs. Cullen.

Oh God, was that it? That had to be it! They were hoping that the Cullens would pay a ransom for me. Were they really hoping that? But I was just an employee. I wasn't a member of the family. We didn't even really have a relationship yet. They wouldn't pay money, pay a ransom, for me. And if they didn't…

My heart sank. I felt a sob trying to break free from behind the tape. Oh please, oh please…let whoever had done this not be asking for too much money and let Dr. Cullen give it to them and I'll work for him forever to pay it back but please, oh please let it not be too much.

I choked back and swallowed the sob. 'Remember, you cannot cry, Bella. You cannot.' It was SO hard not to, but I managed…only just. I was so scared I felt sick to my stomach...and that scared me even more. Oh my God. If I got sick I would, most likely, choke and die. Breathe, slowly…breathe…relax…breathe… A measure of control came back to me. Now think.

When someone came to check on me, I just had to do what I was told and be meek and compliant. I had to do whatever they told me so I could maximize my chances here. I couldn't do anything else.

While trying to relax and just breathe I must have fallen asleep again because the next thing I knew I was waking up…but I didn't know why. I felt awakened by something. What was different? Something was different. I could feel it.

Oh God…my legs! Something felt different about my legs. I tried to move them…and they moved! They weren't tied to anything anymore. How? What happened? It was then that I heard the sound…of breathing…of breathing that wasn't mine.

I couldn't help it…a sound escaped me…a whimper. Was that bad? I couldn't help it. I had wanted to be quiet, but now knowing that someone was in here and that they had released my legs, I couldn't help it. I was scared and encouraged and scared and hopeful and scared half to death.

Whoever was in here with me cleared their throat. It was a man. Was it a man? It sounded deep. And then he spoke…

"I've letcher legs loose. Ya musta been sleepin' hard. Ya dint even wake up. Anyhow…ya can move yer legs now…but if ya kick out at me, they'll be tied up again in a minute and ya won't get ta use the facilities. It makes no nevermind ta me if ya piss yerself, but Victor…" he paused and said "shite", under his breath. "…but someone else thinks we ought ta at least letcha use the loo." And again under his breath, "bleedin' heart, pansy ass…" and then, "Women."

"So, I'm comin' over closer to yer bed. No kickin'. Ya got it?"

I nodded my head and mumbled into my gag. Inside I was yelling "yes, yes!" And I was asking myself 'Do I have to pee? Has it been so long that I have to pee?' I really didn't think I did, but I wasn't going to argue with getting up off this mattress. It felt so good to have some movement in my legs and it would be wonderful to have my arms down and moving again.

"I'm gonna letcher arms loose now…but don't move 'em except down ta yer sides. Then ya can sit up. Don't touch yer blindfold or the gag. Got it?"

I nodded and mumbled an assent again.

"Awright then."

I felt him move closer to the bed and felt the tugging that released one of my wrists. Then I heard his footsteps as he walked around to the other side of me and tugged on the bindings for my other wrist. Remembering my instructions, I slowly moved my arms down to my sides. Now that they were free, I realized how close they had been to becoming painful. I felt pins and needles as the circulation increased. It obviously hadn't been completely cut off, but the position I'd been in had hindered it.

"Now…push yerself up and sit on ta edge of the bed there. Jus put yer feet over ta side."

I had to move slowly. I was stiff. My muscles protested as normal blood flow resumed and they could move again.

I felt movement of the air and then he took my wrists and held them together. The instinctive part of my brain wanted to hit, to fight, to do whatever I could to make him quit touching me. I fought that urge and remained quiet.

"I've gotta tie yer hands back tagether in fronta ya. It'll be loose enough so ya can use 'em fer whatcha need to use 'em fer." I let myself be tied. As soon as that was done, his hand grabbed my upper arm and pulled me to my feet. I almost toppled back to the bed. I know I couldn't have been here that long, but my legs felt shaky and weak. My toes grabbed the rough wooden floor (rough…wooden…remember that, just in case) to help steady me.

"Hold up…hold up fer a second. Don't fall back on me." He stood there holding my arm. We stayed that way for some seconds while I regained my balance.

"Awright. You ready now? Let's go." And he tugged on my arm.

I shuffled my feet; I was still afraid I might fall. Walking this way was scary…I was afraid to take regular steps. Almost immediately I felt a splinter from the floor as it stabbed into the soft pad of my big toe. I grunted behind the gag and thought, 'Shit! That hurt.' On the heels of that came another thought…'a splinter is the least of your problems right now, Bella. Suck it up.' I tried picking my feet up a little more as we continued.

Not many steps later, he tugged on my arm again, and I stopped. I heard the creak of a door as it opened. Then he steered me through. I scraped the skin on my upper arm against something big just outside the doorway. I hissed at the burn as well as I could behind the tape. A few steps later his voice said, "Stop." I stopped.

Another door opened and he led me inside another room. I could feel the floor under my bare feet. It was cold. Not wood. It felt dirty. Particles of dirt were sticking to the soles of my feet.

"Awright…here's ta way it's gonna work. I'm gonna back ya up 'til yer legs is touchin' ta seat. Then I'm gonna go stand outside ta door. I'm only gonna close it so far as I can't see ya, but it's not gonna be shut alla way. Yer gonna have three minutes ta do yer business…and then I'm comin' in so don't fool around and don't try nothin'. There ain't no windows in here so ya ain't goin' nowheres and ya better not touch that blindfold either. I'll be able ta tell. If ya fuck up any o' this…ya ain't gonna get ta use the loo again. We'll getcha a bucket and ya can do it in fronta me. Yer choice. If yer real nice doin' this, she said ya get to have ta gag off long enough to have ya a drink a somethin'. If yer not...that doesn't happen either. Yer choice. Okay. Here ya are."

He had moved around in front of me and backed me up a couple of steps. I felt the toilet behind my legs. I waited. Now that I'd been standing and walking for a few minutes, I really did need to pee. 'Go!' I shouted inside. 'Go away so I can go.'

"Here's some paper." He shoved some tissue into my hands and I stood there waiting until he stepped away from me. I heard his footsteps and then his voice came from a short distance away.

"I'm shuttin' this door just a bit now. Hurry it up."

I had no way of knowing if he was actually where he couldn't see me, but I had to pee now and I was in nothing but a bra and panties anyway so I wasn't going to worry about that. I just wasn't.

With my hands tied together, I had to move them from one hip and then round to the other to pull at the waistband of my underwear…but I managed. I slipped them down and pushed them to my knees before slowly lowering myself to the seat of the toilet. I couldn't wait to pee….and then nothing happened.

'Let go.' I told myself. 'It's okay. Who gives a flying fuck if he's watching or listening or standing there taking a fucking picture? You have to pee…so pee.' Nothing happened. 'Shit, shit, shit….' I couldn't believe this. I really did have to go now. Why couldn't I go?'

The more I concentrated, the tighter my muscles seemed to clench. How was I going to do this? Time was wasting and I needed to do this and then I needed to have something to drink because I could hardly swallow now and my throat was so dry and…

'Stop! Breathe and relax, and breathe and relax, and breathe…' I sat there and tried to clear my mind and think of things that pleased me and where I felt good and safe and happy and…finally, finally…I felt my muscles loosen and I managed to pee and I couldn't believe how fucking happy I was to do such a simple, basic thing. It took a bit of contortion to use the paper while my hands were tied together but…'where there's a will, there's a way'…and again, I managed.

I had just finished pulling up my underwear when he said, still from a distance thank God, "I'm comin' back in now. Ya best be ready."

I was standing there when I felt his hand on my arm again. "Okay, let's go." He pulled on my arm and I moved my feet again, following him out of the bathroom. Another short distance and then we were apparently back in my prison and he said "Sit here on ta bed. I'll getcha a drink. You was a good girl, you was." I sat.

I heard him walk across the room…it was just a few steps, and then he was back. "Awright," he said, "Now this is gonna be tricky so ya best listen up. I'm gonna take this tape back off yer mouth…on one side. Once it's off a bit, I'm gonna stick a straw in yer mouth and ya can drink. It's not gonna be too much or we'll have to go through all this trip to ta loo thing again too soon. Don't try ta yell or scream or nothin'. Ain't nobody gonna hear ya, so don't waste yer breath. If ya do, ya don't get nothin' ta drink. Get it?"

I nodded. Inside I was thinking, 'Please, just let me have the drink, please…' because now that he'd promised it, I was desperate for it.

I felt his fingertips at the side of my mouth and prepared myself for the pain of having the tape ripped back. Instead, he moved it slowly and…carefully? I mean I was glad, but I didn't understand why he was being so cautious. Then he started talking to himself…under his breath and in a complaining tone of voice…in a higher register too…like he was imitating a woman.

"Don'tcha pull too hard and fast on that tape, Laurent. Don'tcha damage the merchandise 'cause if ya mess up her pretty mouth she'll bring less of a price than if she's intact. Don'tcha screw it up now. Don'tcha…' his voice trailed away. "Fuck me! Shite! Did I just say my…?"

Oh God, oh fuck….he had said his name and he realized he had said his name and what now, what now, what…?

Don't panic, don't panic, don't…

"Well, there's nothin' for it now. It's not gonna matter anyway. Where yer goin', ain't nobody gonna understand er care if ya know my fuckin' name."

'Where I'm going? Where I'm going! Oh, God….what were they going to do with me? A price. He had said '…a price'. Would it matter if my mouth was messed up if they were waiting for a ransom? Why would that matter? But…it would matter that my body, and my face, and my mouth were messed up if they were…selling me to someone…for a price…to the highest bidder….?' I thought I was going to faint as this realization slammed me in the face.

Don't panic, don't panic, don't…

As I said this to myself he finished peeling back the tape as far as he was going to. I felt a straw poking at my lips. I managed to open the corner of my mouth enough for the straw to fit in and took a gentle suck on it. I didn't want to take too much and risk choking myself. As the first small stream of cool water flooded my mouth, every surface in my mouth and throat absorbed it greedily. How had I not known I was this thirsty? I stopped and took a breath and then sucked in a little more. It was heavenly. I was in the middle of the third sip when the straw was pulled from my mouth. I felt the tiny droplets flick from the end of it and onto my cheek. I wanted more…but I was afraid to even make a noise trying to ask. The tape was immediately slapped back down across my mouth.

"Awright, I've done my fuckin' nursemaid duties. Lay back down on that bed. Do it." His voice sounded harsher now. As quickly as I could, I did as he said. Now that I knew his name, I was more afraid of him than I'd been before. Now I had something I could use against him if I ever got out of this. He couldn't be sure no one would care or listen to me, could he?

And then I thought 'well…actually…he probably could. If someone was planning to buy me, they weren't going to worry about who it was that had kidnapped me, were they?' I wasn't thinking straight. I couldn't really grasp that anyone could do this, could steal me. I couldn't accept that there were other people who would be more than willing to buy me. Undoubtedly, I would somehow end up in a place where no one would listen or care about my story and they especially wouldn't care that all this had happened against my will.

I'd been refastened to the bed at my wrists and ankles. I knew now why such care had been taken to make sure I was secured with padded restraints…and why my eyes hadn't been directly taped shut but had a cloth padding over them…between them and the tape. The tape directly on my mouth was probably for the sake of speed. I'm sure it was slapped on almost immediately so I couldn't scream if I came to sooner than they expected. But care was being taken to make sure as little "damage" happened to my body as possible. My body is what was going to bring them money.

As far as I knew…and this thought was desperately hard to contemplate…Dr. Cullen might not even be aware that anything was wrong. He hadn't sent the car. They weren't trying to ransom me to him. For all I knew, they could have sent him a message that I had missed my plane, or had to delay my arrival a day or two or…that I had changed my mind completely and wasn't coming to work for him at all. Done. End of story. Dr. Cullen wouldn't even know to look for me. He would probably just write me off as an irresponsible girl who hadn't been serious about wanting the position. He might try to call me, to reach me through my parents…but he might not.

My parents. Even my parents wouldn't worry for a few days. They would think I was settling in before I called. This was bad…this was very, very bad.

The other thing that was very bad was the fact that I didn't even feel the need to recite my mantra anymore. There was no need because I felt completely defeated now. Dr. Cullen wouldn't be looking for me. No one would be looking for me. I was lost to my parents, to my world. I didn't see a single way I would be able to get myself out of this on my own…and I didn't see how it was possible that anyone, anywhere even knew they should be looking for me.

The hot salt of tears once again squeezed into what little space there was for them…from my eyes to the cloth, where they too were lost.

I think my mind shut down then. It couldn't take anymore. I don't know if I drifted off to sleep or if I just…drifted. I know that the last conscious thought I had was about my tears…and myself…and how lost we both were.

I don't know how long it was before I drifted back, but I realized I was conscious and aware again when I heard the hissing of voices…outside the door to the room I was in, I thought. The voices sounded muffled, so I didn't think they were in here with me.

I listened…hard…though I wasn't sure why. It's not like I had come up with a foolproof plan for escape while I'd been 'gone'. I listened anyway.

"James says….no (know?). …almost….it. They…strange when he….car. Tell us….do….back."

The voice changed. It was the other voice now. The "nursemaid" I thought.

"…not waitin'…caught. Fuck…. Gonna do….princess…"

It changed to the first voice again.

"…her. …..our insurance. …..ready."

I heard the door open and, at the same time, my breathing accelerated. Something was happening. It didn't sound like it was a good thing. I hadn't made out all the words, but their tones had been agitated…worried…scared. I tensed as I waited to see what was going to happen next. I was at their mercy. All I could do at this point was wait.

I waited. I tried to slow my breathing…to control it. And I waited.

I expected someone to come over to me, to touch me, to talk to me…something…but nothing happened. Was someone there? They had been there. I knew they were still there. I could feel them. I could hear them breathing. What were they waiting for? What was happening? The silence was expectant…just waiting, as if they were listening to or for something, and then…

SLAM! The door…the door to the room slammed so hard I jumped to the limit of my restraints. My breathing sped off like a race horse again. Who slammed the door…and why? I heard a loud scraping sound outside the door and hurried harsh voices, though I couldn't make out any of the words. What was that scraping sound? What were they saying? What was happening?

The familiar mantra…

'Don't panic, don't panic…' came unbidden to my mind.

Listen…listen…

I heard footsteps then...outside the room…moving away…fast. And then nothing. Silence. I strained to hear something…anything. It was no good. I was alone again and it was silent. Where had they gone? Why had they gone so suddenly? Why had the door slammed so hard? All I had were questions…no answers came to me. I lay still and tried not to think. It was obvious something was going wrong, but I was afraid to know what it was. If something did go wrong with their plan…what would that mean for me? I didn't think it would be good.

I lay quietly, but I was shivering now. I couldn't control it. My body was shaking and I felt chilled and clammy at the same time. My breathing was getting ragged and out of control. I was terrified. If their plan was going wrong…had already gone wrong…there was no way out for me. I was gone too.

The panic was gnawing away at me, tiny bite by tiny bite, and this time I couldn't keep it away. I didn't have anything left to fight it. I was done. I started to cry….knowing what that meant to my breathing…knowing it would make it harder to breathe with only my nose available to me…but I had no hope of stopping it. I was done.

I was completely absorbed in the spiral, the whirlpool, that was sucking me down into utter despair, so a few minutes passed before I realized I was hearing noises again…loud noises this time, and getting louder. Voices were shouting…loud, deep voices were shouting. It sounded like there were a lot of them and they were moving…getting louder and fainter and louder again. And then slams and bangs, almost like gunshots but…not. Doors slamming? More doors slamming?

The terror intensified. I had no idea what was happening. Who was out there? Was it the 'James' person they had mentioned outside my door? Was he here…and furious? It seemed obvious the plan had failed and was he here now to get rid of me? Was I a loose end that needed tying up? Of course I was.

I knew it was useless, but I started thrashing around on the bed…pulling at my restraints…screaming behind my gag. The springs under the mattress screeched in protest. I was bucking and twisting as hard as I could…so hard that the headboard I was tied to was banging against the wall...over and over.

Maybe I should stay quiet. Maybe he would just leave me here. I should stay quiet. But I couldn't. I had to get out…I had to get free…I didn't want to die…I had to…get…out!

I was so intent on trying to escape, so intent on straining against the bindings on my wrists and ankles, still making noise…too much noise…that it took a moment before I realized I was hearing the loud scraping sound outside the door again. And then the door opened…and I screamed again behind the gag and moaned and thrashed and could barely breathe and I knew it was over…it had to be over.

And then hands were on me…on my shoulders and trying to hold me down and I heard a voice, a deep voice say "Be still, be still…you'll hurt yourself." And then the voice yelled, "I've got her! She's in here…at the end of the hall, there's a door behind the book cabinet." And then other voices were there and he was telling them something but it didn't make sense to me and then he was sending them away but he was still there and he was talking to me, in his deep, softly accented voice.

It wasn't registering with me, though…what he was saying. I couldn't seem to stop trying to wrench myself away from him…but he kept shushing me and I felt his hands at my eyes and…was he removing the blindfold? Was he going to let me see him? Oh God…if I saw him, for sure he would kill me.

But then his voice said, "It's alright, Miss Swan. You're safe now. Be still, please be still. I'll get this off your eyes and you'll be less scared and let me get this off your mouth so you can breathe better…but we do want to be quick. We have to get you out of here. They've set fire to the place and we're going to get it out, but it's burning pretty good in a couple of the rooms downstairs right now so we need to hurry a bit just to be safe, alright? Just be still now."

And I tried…I tried to be still but it wasn't all sinking it and part of me was still so frightened and I was still shaking so hard.

The tape at the side of my eyes pulled at my skin as he peeled it away and then it lifted and the tape at the other side was peeled away as well. I tried to open my eyes, but they'd been closed so long they felt almost glued shut. I tried again…and managed a little…but I couldn't focus. Everything was blurry. I closed them again.

"Don't worry." the voice said, "You'll be able to see fine, I'm sure. It's just that your eyes will have to adjust. They've been behind that blindfold for a lot of hours. Just let them stay closed. It's alright. Let's get this off your mouth now." And he pulled the tape away, quickly but as gently as he could under the circumstances. Finally my mouth was free. I gulped a huge breath of air and it was then I realized what a good thing it was that I'd been able to control my tears before because I felt as if I had been suffocating since I had started crying hard and I'd not even been doing it that long. Once I'd had a few good breaths, I tried to talk…to ask who he was…but my voice wasn't working. My throat was too dry. It was ironic that even though my blindfold and gag had been removed, I still couldn't see or speak.

"Really, don't try to talk or see or do anything just now. You're safe. We found you. I'll explain everything later. Let me get these restraints now. We're almost done here."

I felt his hands at my wrists…first releasing one and then the other. I brought my hands to my face…to my eyes. Were they really okay? They felt odd…burning and swollen. Was it just from the tears that had had no place to go? I rubbed my lids gently while I felt him release first one ankle and then finally, finally…the last bond was untied and I was free.

I lay shaking on the bed and thinking…there is no way I can walk. Can I walk? I tried again to say something to him. It came out little more than a whisper.

"I…I don't know…about walking. My legs…my eyes…I…" and then he interrupted me.

"It's alright. Don't worry. I've got you. Let me help you sit. Let me put this around you. " He put his arm under my back and lifted me to a sitting position. I heard the sound of fabric and then he slipped something around my shoulders.

It was a jacket…I think it was his jacket.

"I've got you now. Don't worry about anything. Just relax." And I felt him put one arm behind my back and the other under my legs and then he was scooping me up off the bed and standing and I remember thinking, 'he must be tall', because it seemed I went up and up in his arms. And then he was moving…walking quickly…and I couldn't hold my head up anymore and I laid it on his chest and my hands grabbed onto his shirt and I let my eyes stay closed and this time the tears had room to slip out and down my cheeks and the sobs could come out and not have to be choked down like a bitter pill.

I felt him slow a bit as he maneuvered stairs…I had been upstairs then…making sure he got us both down safely. We had reached the bottom of the stairs and I smelled smoke…and I started to lurch up in his arms but he grasped me a little tighter and said "We're fine. You're fine. The fire's almost put out. Just keep your face turned in to my chest. Don't worry. We're almost there."

And then we were there…outside…and the air was fresher, only a hint of smoke to taint it, and I took more deep breaths and the sobs began to fade and then he was telling someone to open a door and to get a blanket out of the 'boot' and he was setting me down on a seat…on the seat of a car…and he was helping me slide over because he was sliding in next to me.

I tried to open my eyes a little. They still couldn't focus, but I made out the shadow of his face and I was sure it must be a nice face…a kind face…and then I closed my eyes again.

"Here," his nice voice said, "let's get this around you too." And he didn't take the jacket from me but just wrapped a blanket around me, jacket and all. It felt good…and warm…and I felt less exposed.

There seemed to be a lot of activity around the car. I could hear lots of voices and noises, but in the car, it was just him and me and it felt like a safe little harbor and it was so good to feel safe. I tried opening my eyes again…and was still unsuccessful at focusing. They closed once more. I heard him rummaging about but couldn't look to see what he was doing.

"I've found a bottle of water," he said. I managed to squint my eyes open a tiny bit. Why couldn't I seem to keep them open? He must have seen I wasn't able to do it. "Here, I'll help you. It's okay."

I heard him unscrew the cap and then I felt his hand take mine and guide it to the bottle. I grasped it and brought it to my lips and took a grateful swallow.

"Not too much, at first. You could get sick. Just sip." I felt his hand close over mine…in case I didn't listen and he needed to control it maybe?

I sipped….once…twice…and then a third time and then his hand pried the bottle from mine.

"Lean back now and rest." He said. "We'll get you to the house soon. It's not far, actually. The balls of these bastards to keep you almost in our backyard."

What did he say? Well…I heard what he said. But what did he mean? I managed to open my eyes a bit and realized it was evening and the light was fading and that was maybe contributing to my not seeing that well. My eyes closed again while I asked,

"What are you talking about? I don't know what you're talking about." My voice was working again, though it sounded soft and weak.

"The people who kidnapped you…James, Victoria and Laurent…they've all worked for us in one capacity or another, and they all got let go, uh…'fired'…and…listen, we'll fill you in, I promise…but you shouldn't worry about it right now. As I said, we'll get you to the house and Carlisle will get you checked out. We'll get you to hospital if it seems necessary, but you'll be much more comfortable at the house if it's not. We'll take care of you, Miss Swan."

But…I was still confused.

"I'm still confused," I said. "Dr. Cullen…sent you to find me? He knew I was missing?"

"Yes. I'll explain all the details later…of how we knew what had happened and of how we found you. You should just rest now. We'll be leaving for the house in just a moment."

"Okay. I get that Dr. Cullen made arrangements to find me but, what does this have to do with you and why did you say "they worked for us" and why do you keep saying you'll get me to "the house" and why are you calling Dr. Cullen by his first name and…"

This time, as I was questioning him, I had managed to open my eyes and keep them open and I looked carefully into his. From the last of the fading light, I could tell they were green…and intelligent…and warm. His hair was a rich copper, his nose aristocratic and set a fraction to the left of center, his jaw strong and angular and covered with light stubble. He was breathtakingly good looking.

His face broke into a smile as he saw me staring at him and he said, "I'm so sorry, Miss Swan. I know all about you, but I forgot that you've never seen anything of me before. I live at the house at the moment. Carlisle…Dr. Cullen…is my older brother."

He took my hand in both of his,

"My name is Edward."